Author Archives: Jan V. Ramsey

Music Bubble

I’ll bet that if you read OffBeat and this blog that you tend to live in what I call “the music bubble.” We are the people who love local music, local musicians. We don’t give a damn whether the musicians we love are in the top 40 or in rotation on a commercial station, or on the Billboard charts, or whatever.

The music bubble probably surrounds Orleans Parish, because any time one ventures into most of the surrounds, the music live music “scene” includes mostly cover bands. Nothing against cover bands; they are great for weddings and for people who never listen to music other than commercial radio, broadcast and internet media. I just think it’s a real shame that with the rich musical tradition that we have in this city (and state, for that matter), that most of the population doesn’t respond all that well to local musicians.

Case in point: I’ve been told that the big Mardi Gras krewes regularly hire cover bands for their balls. I’ve seen (advertised) numerous church and school fairs that feature cover bands. Obviously, whoever is booking the music for these events isn’t familiar with local original music.

Now, you can’t really blame people for liking only the music they’ve been exposed to over the years. That’s where the problem lies. Why aren’t local radio stations playing more local music? Why can’t they be incentivized to play local music in some way—and I don’t mean in an off-time period like at 5 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon when someone puts on a “locals” show. I mean in prime time listening periods. Tax credits maybe?

It’s a shame that we only really have two non-commercial radio stations in New Orleans now: WWOZ and WTUL. WWNO still plays jazz during the day, but only on its HD affiliate (WWNO has gone to an all-talk format on its regularly-broadcast FM programming).

I suppose that one could contend that “forcing” the public to listen to local music is against some first amendment issue, but our music’s survival, based on widespread appreciation and subsequent support from the public, is crucial to perpetuating the music, educating the public, entertaining listeners, and is essential to our culture.

I’d certainly urge anyone to support non-commercial radio and to support those stations which make an effort to play local music to a prime time audience (of course they need to promote the fact that they do this as well). Ask your favorite commercial station to play mre local music. Anything helps.

 

Think we need more blues in New Orleans? Take our poll.

 

 

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Being afraid in my home town

I’ve been lucky enough to travel to several countries overseas, and it always is fascinating to observe the differences in the way of life and in the cultures of the countries I’ve visited. Joseph and I just returned from a visit to England. Our daughter now lives there with her partner and their baby daughter, and we took time to celebrate Josefine’s first birthday in London.

Anitra and Robert live in Greenwich (yeah, of “mean Greenwich time” fame, the base for world time determination). Greenwich is considered “London,” but it’s more like an inner-city suburb (think Carrollton or Mid-City).

London was lovely this time of year; the weather was temperate and it only rained one day of our visit. Every time we’ve been there, we’ve walked all over the city, exploring it as much as we could in our limited time there.

It was a glorious visit, and it must have been a “long-enough” vacation, because I was so glad to come home. We arrived last Thursday evening and went to bed, so we could manage a few hours in the office on Friday, after dealing with the inevitable jet lag.

We went to bed pretty early on Friday night, but I got up to go to the bathroom sometime around midnight, and, bleary-eyed, noticed police lights flashing outside. Went back to bed, thinking it was a traffic problem of some sort.

We wake up on Saturday morning to hear that two youngsters (a 24-year-old woman and a 17-year-old boy) were found shot in a car at Second and Baronne, a short way from our house. Apparently they’d been shot in their car, the woman lost control and ran into a parked car on Baronne Street. Both of the victims died.

I came back from relatively peaceful, civilized London to this?

Shocking.

This is the second murder that’s taken place at that intersection in the past five years.

In 2009, there were several young men who were also shot in a drive-by on Baronne Street, one of whom we saw bleeding (and dying) on the corner of Second and Baronne on an otherwise peaceful Sunday afternoon.

Since I’ve returned, I’ve been reading about a rash of car jackings, home invasions and murders in New Orleans, in our neck of the woods.

It’s pretty scary, actually. As anyone who reads my column is aware, I am totally against guns. Yes, yes, I know the gun people will say “if only these people had a gun they could protect themselves.”

Hogwash.

How can having a gun in the ready protect you from a drive-by shooting—which, by the way, can happen anywhere, not just in Uptown New Orleans or New Orleans East or the Bywater? I just don’t see it.

It’s beyond outrageous that thugs with guns—because they have guns—get away with robbery, theft, larceny, and murder—literally. But I don’t think that more firearms (the contention by gun-toters that you can defend yourself by having a firearm) are the answer to this problem. The vast majority of the population may feel safe (or patriotic) because they own a gun, but the reality is that the criminals with the guns have a considerable edge on John Q. Citizen when it comes to using a weapon to perpetrate their crimes. More guns in the hands of the general population is just not the answer. Anyone who buys this mantra has been sucked in by the propaganda that emanates from the National Rifle Association (who represent firearms manufacturers) that’s inundated America over the past 40 years or so. More guns does not prevent or solve gun violence. Isn’t that obvious?

So, over the weekend, Joseph runs into the drugstore to pick up something, and leaves me in the car alone with our dog, keys in the ignition. All of a sudden, it occurs to me that I could be a target of a stupid someone with a stupid gun who’s up to no good. After that wave of paranoia, I thought back to the week before when I was in London and we were out all hours of the day and night and we never even thought twice about being shot or car jacked or robbed at gunpoint.

Gun ownership is very tightly controlled in England. The United Kingdom has one of the lowest rates of gun homicides in the world, with only 0.04 recorded intentional homicides committed with a firearm per 100,000 inhabitants in 2010. Fully automatic and semi-automatic weapons are prohibited and require explicit permission from central government to permit ownership.

We’re not consciously aware of it, but when you live in a big city in the US, you by necessity have to be a lot more careful than if you live in a city like London. There’s an overriding fear in the back of your mind: “I could be held up. I could be shot. I have to be vigilant and careful. I have to distrust people.”

I hate that feeling. And I didn’t have it while I was in England, something I just realized when I came back home.

I really dislike having to live in a place where more guns are made out to be the solution to gun violence and crimes. It doesn’t work. We need to have less guns, not more.

 

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Noise lawsuit against the 544 Club squashed

The noise lawsuit against the 544 Club in the French Quarter didn’t make muster. This suit is important because it’s the tip of the iceberg of the mass of lawsuits filed against several reputable venues in the Quarter.  If they are won by the plaintiffs, the could literally close down Bourbon Street. Thank goodness for Richard Webster’s reportage on the 544 Club lawsuit!

I made Richard Webster‘s acquaintance when he worked at New Orleans CityBusiness, and he now writes for NOLA.com. Webster is interested in the culture business of the city and writes about it regularly. Over the weekend, I received an email from Chris Young, an attorney who works with liquor retailers (bars, etc.) in the city and keeps everyone abreast of important legal and governmental actions that may affect their businesses.

A big lawsuit that has been under consideration for some time was one that involved the 544 Club on Bourbon Street. Peter Yokum and his partner, who live in a family-owned home on Toulouse Street, have sued numerous bars and venues because they have contended that the “noise” from these places on Bourbon have caused them mental and physical distress. They were suing for tens of millions of dollars.

The first case that came up was the one against the 544 Club, and Young reported that the court—with a jury—decided that the 544 Club was not a noise problem.

Webster reported on the verdict on 544 Club case on NOLA.com.

The law firm that represented Yokum (Smith Stag, Stuart Smith’s firm) says it will appeal. Smith is the attorney who’s been the impetus behind this lawsuits and several others, including the brouhaha over Mimi’s in the Marigny, which had to stop music at that venue after the lawsuit.

What I love about the results of this case is that it may set a precedent for the other silly lawsuits that Smith Stag has filed on the behalf of Yokum. These suits are filed against Pat O’Brien’s, Court of Two Sisters and several more. Read Webster’s post on this issue, and then for a chuckle, read the comments.

One of the comments references a group of photos that were taken of Yokum’s home on Toulouse Street. Yokum is an accomplished artist.

If you look carefully at the beginning of the third row, you’ll see a a few photos of Yokum’s studio, that has a beautiful portrait of Stuart Smith and his partner on an easel (presumably that Yokum painted).

I guess if Smith-Stag wins any of the lawsuits, Yokum and Smith et al would be so rich they could literally own the French Quarter. Or was that the idea all along?

 

We want to know what OffBeat readers want: take our Weekly Poll.

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Cyberstalking and noise abatement

Today’s newspaper ran a brief article that reported that “noise” opponent and lawyer Stuart Smith pleaded guilty to a cyberstalking charge and was given a one-year suspended sentence, and two years of  inactive probation. Smith didn’t appear in court but sent another attorney to represent him.

Smith was charged with sending a threatening text message to French Quarter Management District Chairman Robert Watters; in addition Smith also sent a threatening email to then-Councilmember Kristin Gisleson Palmer; however Palmer did not file charges.

Lest we forget, remember that Smith and his firm Smith-Stagg have been involved in numerous lawsuit against many businesses in the French Quarter and Faubourg Marigny, including the 544 Club, Pat O’Brien’s, Court of The Two Sisters, Antoine’s, Mimi’s in the Marigny and several more. His firm is also involved in a lawsuit filed by a resident of the Jax Brewery Condominiums against the Jackson Brewery Bistro and Bar regarding noise violations.

Unfortunately, bullying tactics are obviously part of Smith’s repertoire; there was evidence of his tactics on his website and on YouTube when he deposed sound expert Dave Woolworth and used the taped depositions to try to discredit Woolworth’s credibility. Woolworth had  to hire an attorney to get the offensive depositions removed.

Attorney Smith is no gentleman, but he’s obviously a damned good plaintiff attorney. Too bad he has to use bullying and threats to try to get his way.

But enough about him.

The city is still working on its Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance revamp. One issue that continues to come up is noise remediation. I am 100 percent for music in neighborhood venues, bars and music clubs. I just do not have any patience for people who move in next to a bar and then complain about the music coming from inside the venue. However, I do believe in neighborliness. If there are enough complaints, the venue should voluntarily do noise remediation, and do it properly to cut down on any disturbance to residents. This obviously could be expensive, but (as I’ve suggested before) in order to preserve our heritage of live music, the city of New Orleans should offer a tax credit or rebate to venues that can prove that they’ve ameliorated any sound bleed by the installation of noise-reduction equipment or construction. I also don’t believe there should be any so-called grandfathering of clubs that have been operating without sound-dampening equipment. If you want to have music in your restaurant or bar, then you should do the neighborly thing and keep the music inside your establishment.

The music outside is another issue entirely, but that’s another blog!

How often do you go out to hear live, local music? Take our Weekly Beat poll here.

 

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Information Geek Finds New Music Where?

I’m sort of an information geek, always have been. My mother used to call me a walking encyclopedia of useless information, because I love facts. In fact, I used to love to read the encyclopedia (when they still existed).

But now pretty much all the information you’d ever be interested in is online. For a person with a curious mind, the worldwide web is a goldmine.

In fact there’s now so much information available to anyone with a web connection that it boggles the brain.

Same goes for music. Had a conversation with a guy last week about the music business, and how it’s changed over the past 15 years. And I just spoke to an old friend of mine who works for a blues label. We all marveled at how finding and buying music has changed, just in a few years . How much there is out there—“the amount of music is wide and deep,” said my friend at the blues label, “but the fact of the matter is that our demographic is a lot older. The people who buy CDs are certainly technologically-oriented, but younger people’s lives revolve around technology. They’re used to getting their music in ways we didn’t.”

So true.

But, speaking as someone who not only loves music, but loves looking for artists and stuff I’ve not yet experienced, there are so many ways to find it that it’s almost too much to handle.

First of all, I don’t have the time to spend online looking for music that I might like. That’s a handicap for someone who wants to listen to interesting new music (and I’m probably more attuned to finding music than your average person who doesn’t work in music media).

I’m firmly opposed to downloading music free, so I subscribe to a few listening spots, like Pandora, Rhapsody and Spotify. I can get samples too, from iTunes. But I also will go to band website and to YouTube which helps me identify new stuff. And of course, I keep my ear to the ground and listen to the buzz on the street.

There’s just so much out there now. Where do you find new music? Take our poll.

 

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We’re All In This Together

It’s that time of year again. I sincerely hope that when this issue of OffBeat hits the street—scheduled for August 28—it will end up in your hands on the day it’s supposed to. As I write this, the week before the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, there are two potential tropical storms that could develop into hurricanes. Needless to say, our local weather news media is salivating at the prospect of scaring the hell out of us and devoting most of their time to tracking the two “potentials.”

Katrina sunny

A sunny day in New Orleans: post-Katrina.

It’s annoying, because I feel that they’ve exploited our region’s fear of storms to make “news” that doesn’t really exist. But then again, it’s certainly better to be prepared than not. I just wish there wasn’t such an emphasis on the fear factor.

Our September 2005 issue was scheduled to be delivered on August 29; we even had a launch party scheduled. Well, that didn’t happen!

It’s been nine years, and frankly, it seems like only last week when we all endured the horrors of Katrina. So many lost so much, but I think what we gained was the realization that we are a strong, resilient and capable community that’s come back from almost being wiped off the face of the planet to a city that’s stronger and more vibrant than before the storm.

I love the fact that our music is strong and growing. Our culture-bearers are still working to keep it strong. I’m gratified that young musicians are moving to the city for the same reasons that they’ve always wanted to be here: New Orleans is the best place to be if you want to learn from, as well as play with, the masters.

I’m thrilled that so many entrepreneurs and young people have moved here (this wasn’t happening pre-Katrina) and are strengthening New Orleans’ intellectual infrastructure and support for the culture. They’ve brought a much-needed energy to the city.

I’m happy that we seem to have recovered to a level that exceeds where we were before the storm, and that New Orleans is becoming known as one of the fastest-growing cities in America.

Of course, we will have problems with corruption, education, racial tension and sometimes, let’s face it, some ignorance that still persists.

What I hope for our city is that the strides we’ve made will continue and make us stronger, even if we have to face another destructive storm together.

What we all need to be cognizant of is that we’re all in this together. One thing that I believe holds New Orleans back from achieving more is that there’s not enough communication and cooperation between power structures and organizations. That’s what we need more than anything: if we work together, we’ll triumph. Happy Hurricane Season!

Southern Decadent Culture and Lifestyle

How much thought do you give to your “culture and lifestyle”?

Probably not that much, I would imagine. But the fact is that there are a lot of different kinds of cultures bubbling under the surface of the niceties that most of us observe as American “culture.”

I think most everyone would admit there’s a vast difference between white and black culture, for example. Some of those lines have certainly been blurred over the past 50 years post-segregation, but in truth, there are a lot of practices that are almost foreign to one group or the other. We all meet in the middle with the so-called “American” lifestyle. I suppose that’s where our melting pot culture comes from: we take a little bit here, and a little bit there, mix them up and come up with something that’s more homogenous. And in my opinion: pretty boring (Why else do tyou think I live in New Orleans?).

Homogenous, we ain't...! (Photo: Kim Welsh)

Homogeneity in mainstream American culture creates a lifestyle that allows us to recognize some of our commonalities and to function more easily in a society that consists of all sorts of ethnicities, religions, races, and sexual preferences. These innate differences are, of course, featurea of a highly diversified population, the hallmark of America. It’s especially true in New Orleans, a city that revels in eccentricity, that we’re not quite all one-of-a-kind homogenous. We like to mix it op–a lot–and we celebrate our differences.

When one culture rears its head up and makes a statement, though, it can be a little disconcerting, and create some criticism and even some laughs from others not in the culture, who don’t conform to what’s mainstream “normal.”

Ever heard of Sweet Brown?

Rearing its head this weekend in New Orleans is a very different kind of celebration: we celebrate LGBT culture with Southern Decadence. Held every Labor Day weekend, Southern Decadence is one of the most colorful, fun festivals in New Orleans—but definitely not one that what one would consider politically correct in the mainstream homogenous American cultural mix (oh, trust me on that). I recently learned that Decadence is a celebration that started in New Orleans over 40 years ago. I also learned that the Decadence organization uses the proceeds from the event to donate to a charity every single year. So it’s not just a big gay party: this group parties hard (oh pardon the pun), and not only celebrates its gayness and different-ness that bubbles under the surface of New Orleans mainstream culture.  It’s actually a celebration of freedom of expression, of throwing off the shackles of being hated, derided and shunned by many in the world, even their own families (what a terrible tragedy).  It’s a celebration of equality, of being open, of acceptance.  And lucky ofr us, the party contributes greatly to the city’s appeal as an off-the-wall, party-friendly destination for people of all sexual orientations (who cares about sexual orientation, anyway? A person is a person!).

This sort of thing is exactly what I’ve described previously: in New Orleans, we care not about your culture being different; we celebrate your individuality. What we need to remember,  though, is that LGBT visitors are just people looking to have a good time, and if we loosen up and join the party, we’ll learn something about a culture that’s different from the ho-hum mainstream.

Ever been to Decadence? Take our poll.

 

 

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Survey says trad jazz

For the past couple of months, OffBeat has posted a survey on our website, just to get an idea of what our readers like, their opinions on political matters related to music, how they use information and more.

Last week, we polled our readers and asked them “If you had one night to experience music in New Orleans, what kind of music would you go listen to?”

I thought that we’d get a lot of funk, brass band, and rock and maybe blues, but to my surprise, trad jazz topped the list.

I’ve thought about this for the past couple of days and wonder if perhaps the clubs in the city are missing the boat when it comes to offering more “jazz” on their menus.

Tuba Skinny on Royal Street (Photo: playing-traditional-jazz.blogspot.com)

When I think trad jazz, I don’t think Preservation Hall, or a Dixieland band (well, okay, maybe I do think P-Hall a little..), I think about some of the younger bands, like Panorama, or Tuba Skinny. I think there’s a lot more room for those kinds of bands on club “menus” these days. It certainly couldn’t hurt if the Bourbon Street bars added a bit more music of this variety to their menus (cover bands unfortunately didn’t fare too well on this list, and goodness knows there are a ton of cover bands on Bourbon).

New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz, and it appears that there are more lovers of the music than I perceived. Bring it on!

Take this week’s OffBeat survey here.

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Ephemera, or the wonderful world of disposable information

The internet is wonderful, and opens up almost infinite possibilities for acquiring and seeking out new information; it’s had a profound impact on how we relate to the universe.

It used to be we had encyclopedias, books, libraries, research information, photos and books in hard copies, but that’s changed so drastically.

Take photography, for example.

We all used to have photos we could see and hold onto. Photos were precious. First of all, you had to buy a certain level camera to take a good photo, and you had to not only buy film, but then you had to develop the photos, or pay someone to develop them for you. This means the photos themselves had an instrinsic value, not only for the moment in time they captured, but also because they literally were worth the dollars you invested in them (not even considering the time it took for you to take the photos).

Fading away?

No more. Photos can be taken by a mobile phone, a tablet computer. You can take a thousand crappy photos and pick one that just happened to capture the exact moment that looks good. In some ways, the transformation of analog to digital photography  allowed almost anyone to call themselves a “photographer.”

I can guarantee you that if you have the most expensive photographic equipment and the fastest lens around, and the merest eye, and you’re willing to sort through all the images, you’ll find something that will convince the uninitiated that you are a “photographer.”

Now we have Instagram and SnapChat. Certainly not a lot of photographic expertise needed to participate in those. And SnapChat photos and videos are made to be deleted.

Moments in time used to be a lot more precious when we had to take the time to record them. Now they’ve become almost expendable.

My mother lost all of our family photos to Katrina, which means that she’ll never again be able to see photos of her children, parents and other family members—and neither will the rest of our family. That was really an incalculable loss. Those memories can only reside somewhere deep inside our brains; it was a tragedy, really.

Yes, they could have all been scanned and reside on the cloud somewhere. But they weren’t. How many of the memories you’ve recorded with photos and videos on your digital devices are really precious to you? Will you have access to them when your computer crashes or you forget to pay your storage bill?

We had a discussion in the office recently about how much information we need to put on our website, OffBeat.com. We tend to want to use the website as a repository of historical information; maybe it will be valuable someday. For example, when writers for HBO’s Treme were doing research on what was happening musically in New Orleans post-Katrina, they used copies of OffBeat to do their homework.

We now put a lot more information onto our website than into our print edition of the magazine. But the web posts are pretty short and sweet; snippets, really (human attention spans have definitely been reduced a result of technology). Our more long-form, in-depth pieces go into the magazine.

If we should lose our electronic version of history, what will we have left? I think we have to look at what we do in a more permanent light: OffBeat’s approach to music coverage is more than digital trash, or selfies;  moments of recorded time, place and people shouldn’t be disposable via the crash of a storage device.

I guess I’m making a decent case for print.

Going through some boxes at the office today, I found a lot of old OffBeat archival materials—old rate cards, envelopes, invoices, promotional pieces, stories, photos. Sometimes it’s not only good to look at the elements of your history; it’s also the measure of progress and improvement and the documentation of change. Personally, I’m glad we still have hard copies and a historical record of the way things used to be—that stuff wasn’t digitally recorded, and a lot of valuable information may never be.

After all, what is a business—or what is humankind–without a demonstrable historical record?

 

 

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The Faux and The Reel

For the past couple of days, I’ve been visually bombarded with a huge faux Mardi Gras parade outside my Frenchmen Street perch. A film crew, hundreds of costumed extras, a couple of confetti cannons, several fake Mardi Gras floats, a Toyota Camry outfitted with a camera, and at least as many film crew people closed down Frenchmen Street and Decatur Street to create the illusion of Mardi Gras. As I write this, today’s shoot has been closed down (I think even Mr, Okra got into the picture) and there are clean-up crews with sweep brooms and leaf blowers cleaning up the confetti and beads from the street. All that’s missing is the smell of garbage, urine and vomit and a the passed-out drunks that you see on Bourbon post-Mardi Gras. Frenchmen Street’s (fake) Mardi Gras is a helluva lot more sanitary. More to come, tomorrow, I suspect.

All the beads, confetti. None of the bodily fluids.

I mentioned to Steve Maloney, OffBeat’s web editor, that maybe we should have put something up showing what a Mardi Gras parade looks like outside the OffBeat offices, and he strongly disagreed. “Who wants to see a lame, fake Mardi Gras parade?” he scoffed.

Well, I guess he’s right. It’s going tp be a very, very sanitized “reel.”

It was interesting watching the film crew, director and extras put together the shots (over and over and over and over and over again), but fake it was. To a seasoned New Orleanian, this was a laughable Mardi Gras. Whatever. We s hould be thankful to Toyota for choosing to make New Orleans the backdrop of their commercial for Camrys. But consumer, beware! It’s not the real thing—we don’t have those kinds of parades on Frenchmen!

Now speaking of the “real”…The Mardi Gras Indian Hall of Fame celebrates its 16th anniversary this year. Geraldine Wyckoff, OffBeat writer for many years, is receiving their “Scribe” Awards. Yours truly was the recipient of the Scribe Award a few years ago, and that award is one of my prize possessions: it’s an Indian patch, with a feather pan and inkwell, with the words “Mojo Mouth” embroidered on it. Now that’s an award I will always cherish.

Congratulations to Geraldine and all the recipients of this year’s awards.

 

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