Perusing my Facebook page last night, I saw a reference to a problem at the Marigny Opera House, a renamed old church in the Bywater. By candlelight (no electricity, apparently), someone started playing acoustic music, and a few shows have been performed there.
The neighbors shut it down.
Dave Hurlbert, who operates the church said: “A petition by a few neighbors was circulated, opposing the performance of live music in the church. And so I am asking for a show of support from our neighbors who welcome the idea of our restoring the building and sharing it with the neighborhood along its original lines: as a place for spiritual fulfillment through acoustic, live music.
“All our music is acoustic, without amplification, and it is not audible outside the church when we close the windows. All our performances end around 10pm – per the neighborhood noise ordinance. As far as being like Bourbon Street: we’re a non-profit foundation, and we ain’t got a bar. People actually come to listen to music. Last week we listened to Andre Bohren play Chopin!”
I just don’t get the mentality of neighbors who want to do away with music, in the nation’s most musical city, the birthplace of jazz. It doesn’t seem to me that the acoustic music was causing a major disturbance in the neighborhood. What I have heard however, is that the neighborhood was taking a “pre-emptive” strike before things at the church escalated into a full-blown “problem.”
Problem? Why shouldn’t people be allowed to enjoy music in a neighborhood location if it’s in compliance with city standards? This isn’t even a bar, and it doesn’t serve alcohol.
On another side of the coin, today I spoke with brothers Huey and Angelo Farrell, who operate Bourbon Heat at 711 Bourbon Street. They renovated the dilapidated former Tricou House (which was a regular music venue for many years), and created a lovely tropical courtyard on the first floor, two bars, and a dance club/music venue/bar on the second floor. Angelo Farrell renovated the building and originally leased it to another Bourbon Street operator who has a reputation on the street for blasting music out of clubs (illegally). The Farrells have parted ways with this operator and are now running the venue themselves.
Angelo Farrell is a contractor whose renovation work has been focused in the Vieux Carre. He’s renovated award-winning buildings in the Quarter. He did run into a political issue with a proposed condo conversion at Royal and Canal Streets, which apparently may have him on the outs with some of the political and neighborhoods groups that wield an inordinate amount of power when it comes to business development and operation in the French Quarter .
Be aware: these neighborhood activist groups in the Quarter and city agencies have the wherewithal to control what happens to both residences and business operations in the French Quarter.
Regarding music at Bourbon Heat: “We decided to only do smooth jazz, no live music, in the courtyard,” Huey Farrell says. “We have a dance crowd upstairs at the moment, and we’d like to add live music soon.”
“We want Bourbon Heat to be different from a lot of the places on Bourbon,” said Angelo Farrell. “People who come to the Quarter sort of expect two things: that great tropical French Quarter courtyard, and a place to dance and let loose. We have both of those in one venue.”
Everything seemingly should work for Bourbon Heat, except that a neighbor who lives two houses down complained, and the bar is working to address noise issues that could potentially have a negative effect on whether or not the bar can remain open. “I own a house that I live in part-time. It’s literally right next door to the courtyard. I can’t hear any noise in the house,” said Angelo. “The woman who complained lives two houses away and is much closer to other bars on Bourbon. Yet she complained about our place. Why do these people have so much power? The vast majority of residents in the French Quarter don’t complain. They know that they are living in an area of the city that has a lot of music, tourist activity and associated noise, and they accept it as part of life in the Quarter. Why do a few so-called neighbors have the power to shut down a business when it’s accepted by most as being okay.”
Music is not noise. You know the old saying: “If you don’t like the heat, get out of the kitchen”? I say that if you don’t appreciate living in the French Quarter, with everything that means, including music, tourists, noise, and other inconveniences, then the Vieux Carre should not be your place of residence.
The proposed revisions in the noise ordinance are still pending, and they need to resolved. Not everyone is going to get what they want. The city hired an acoustic expert/consultant who’s making the rounds, talking to all the people involved: clubs, residents, street musicians, musicians, and other interested parties before he makes a recommendation on what acceptable levels of noise should be included into the revised city ordinance. The city has to find a way to make equitable rules for different areas of the city that have entertainment, or could potentially host entertainment. The city should make them enforceable and then shut down the biggest scofflaws: souvenir and T-shirt shops who blast music onto the street, and operators on Bourbon Street who drown out everyone else on the street with obnoxiously loud music. Get these people out of here. There’s an acceptable level of street and music noise on streets like Bourbon and Frenchmen. It’s part of the ambience. It shouldn’t be done away with. It should be tolerable to visitors and residents alike. Personally, what I’m perceiving is that a few residents don’t want music, and they’re trying to win game. It’s a power trip.
What will come of the ongoing battle to create a good noise ordinance? I have no idea. But I do think this whole situation has been dragging on way too long, and it’s getting worse. It’s almost as though there’s a “noise mafia” of powerful neighborhood groups that are calling the shots on what can and can’t happen with music in the city. And these people aren’t music lovers, apparently. Many of them don’t even live here full-time. They call themselves preservationists and lovers of New Orleans, but they look at the French Quarter, the Faubourg Marigny and the Bywater as their own private gated communities. Let’s face it: they have money and power to make things happen in a way where they call the shots. I have been told by numerous businesses that Stuart Smith, a wealthy plaintiff attorney who lives (part-time) on St. Philip Street and part-time in Miami (!), has filed lawsuits against several prominent French Quarter businesses because live music is too loud and is not to his liking. He says he’s a preservationist. So Mr. Smith, why do you think you should control the city’s music? In the name of preservation? How about proactively getting some of the derelict property owners in the Quarter to repair their properties? Isn’t that what a preservationist usually does?
Once again: You gotta take the bitter with the sweet. If you don’t like the music and culture of the city, then move to the suburbs. Or Miami.
The city of New Orleans has to step up and strongly declare that we are a music city and that any music played anywhere that’s played within city guidelines and proscribed decibel levels trumps some cranky rich neighbor’s complaints. Even about something that “might” happen in the future!