Frenchmen Street Music, Culture and Balloons

Frenchmen Street music, now Frenchmen Street culture too!

One the huge benefits of publishing a music and culture magazine is getting to meet all the musicians and artists. After interviewing several illustrators and artists, we commissioned Tami Curtis to create our 2014 Jazz Fest Bible cover, a painting of Rebirth Brass Band, which now has become a venerable member of the New Orleans music community.

Tami’s painting is outstanding (don’t you think?), and lucky for her, when the Louisiana Music Factory moved in downstairs, the owner of our building decided he might want a small business in the lobby area (it’s been vacant since we moved into the building). Tami needed her own gallery, and a new business was born at 421 Frenchmen. So now we have not only music and culture media, we also have a music retail store and an accomplished artist, all in the same location.

The OffBeat staff has also had the distinct pleasure of being able to enjoy all the Louisiana Music Factory in-stores. I’ve been listening to Kermit Ruffins all morning in the comfort of our upstairs office. Downstairs…well, it’s hugely crowded and a bit “swampy” to say the least; this week has been the Music Factory’s big week to present music. Later on, we’ll hear Rebirth Brass Band, Waylon Thibodeaux, Jesse McBride, the Royal Southern Brotherhood, “Wolfman” Washngton, Ellis Marsalis and Big Sam’s Funky Nation. Whoa!

The Music Factory shuts down its in-stores during Jazz Fest, and the finale is on Monday with Ingrid Lucia, Stover and the Voormen, Glen David Andrews, the Smoking Time Jazz Club, and Johnny Sansone closing out this year’s Jazz Fest in-store season at 6 p.m. Damn, aren’t we lucky?

Frenchmen Street is blowing and going. It’s more packed with music-lovers than ever, and there’s much more foot traffic now that the Music Factory has opened. In fact, it’s gotten as crazier every night. Several bar owners reported increased drug activity on street from what they call the “nitrous people,” who bring in tanks of nitrous oxide and brazenly sell balloons to partyers on Frenchmen (this has been reported for several years now). Now, no one on Frenchmen Street is particularly averse to recreational drugs (after all, all the venues on the street do sell alcohol), but alcohol sales are legal. And nitrous isn’t. The Nitrous People are adept at avoiding arrest; usually if they are spotted, they know how to stash their tanks into a nearby trash can temporarily and slip away without being detected by the NOPD…only to return when the police move on to other, more pressing concerns.

The manager of one music club reported “The first night of Jazzfest we had the nitrous tank people all over the place. They are not fun-loving hippies but aggressive illegal dealers. Kicked them off our property and they came back. I physically picked up their tank and removed it from our property and the guy grabbed the glasses ($500) off my face and stomped on them. A number of years ago we had a girl with a nitrous balloon pass out, creak (sic) her skull open on our curb and she went into a seizure of violent convulsions. The EMTs showed up and were appalled that the same people that sold her the balloon were still selling a foot away in the open and they were laughing at the girl. Last night we (had) multiple tanks and balloons everywhere.”

And another bar manager said something more: On Thursday night “there was a small group selling nitrous oxide balloons on the corner of Chartres and Frenchmen. Within an hour, there had to be at least 50 (people) roaming up and down Frenchmen sucking on their lovely balloons. The seller, a young white male, made his way on the sidewalk to the front of the Spotted Cat. In no uncertain terms, I told him he had better get the ___k from in front of the club. I got the LOOK, but he relented and walked back to sell his wares in front of Dat Dog. I notified the NOPD in this regard. Lo and behold, within 20 minutes two units showed up, detained one of the sellers and confiscated the tank of nitrous.”

When notified about the issues on Frenchmen, police Commander Jeffrey Walls promised to reinforce the NOPD presence this weekend on Frenchmen, with mounted police and more off-duty police to create more of a presence on the street.

So Nitrous People: be aware. Frenchmen isn’t a good place to be this weekend.

It’s easy to enjoy yourself on Frenchmen without frying any more brain cells than you have to. If you must raise your brain to an altered state, better to be safe than sorry. Passing out and cracking open your skull after a huff on a nitrous-filled balloon is a great way to spoil your Jazz Fest experience, don’t you think? Let music be your high…!


  • sraw

    If you don’t like nitrous or think it’s dangerous, don’t use it. The dangers relative to what is legal and what isn’t are mostly arbitrary and based on the economic benefit to the power structure, and to not censure alcohol, one of the most dangerous drugs, or nicotine for that matter, is hypocritical. And then after portraying nitrous venders as devils (which may be true for all I know), you warn them, like you’re their friend, to stay away? Wow, what are you using?