More and more often, the issues you hear concerning music in New Orleans have to do with two things: the inability of the city to enforce regulations that are set forth in law, and the inability of musicians to make a decent living.
These are very complicated topics, obviously, but let’s suffice it to say that the New Orleans Police Department doesn’t have enough manpower—or it can’t allocate manpower—to make sure that the laws on the books are adhered to.
Now, New Orleans has long been a place where a “laissez-faire” attitude prevails. I always thought that the term sort of meant a live-and-let-live approach to daily life (I always marveled at how many weed smokers got away with it—with absolutely no ramifications—at the hundreds (maybe thousands) of clubs and festivals I’ve been to in the course of my life). Of course, we know that imbibing alcohol on the streets 24/7 is also part of New Orleans’ attraction for people from the outside world who think a privilege like that is tantamount to nirvana.
So I consulted my handy Wikipedia and see that laissez-faire is defined as an “economic system in which transactions between private parties are free from government intervention such as regulation, privileges, tariffs and subsidies. The phrase laissez-faire is part of a larger French phrase and basically translates to ‘let (it/them) do,’ but in this context usually means to ‘let go.’”
Let go is right. We’re known for being a place where anything goes, loosey-goosey, tolerant. Let’s face it: that has always been part of the charm and attraction of New Orleans. In the words of professor/geographer/writer Richard Campanella:
“Being a New Orleanian, I suspect, implies tolerance, open-mindedness and making peace with the differences that divide us. It permits indulging in the pleasures of life here and now and not worrying too much about the unknowable tomorrows. It means narrowing the gap between who you say you are and who you really are. It’s dancing in the street without feeling self-conscious, greeting strangers without a sense of threat, enjoying good food and libations without feeling profligate, and being at once dashing, warm, laid back and zesty. It’s the tout ensemble of laissez faire plus carpe diem with a little joie de vivre thrown in as lagniappe.”
Yes, the laissez-faire in certainly part of our identity, but it also creates an attitude where the nefarious or manipulative can get away with a lot more than they should.
Now, I’m certainly not implying that the NOPD is either of those things; they have limited resources and, in terms of patrols on entertainment districts, they focus on Bourbon Street, not Frenchmen Street. In doing so, they allow the manipulative and nefarious on Frenchmen to get away with what they shouldn’t.
As I’ve mentioned in my column many times, Frenchmen Street has become the number two entertainment district in the city, second only to Bourbon, and visitors are growing every year. There are many changes that should take place on Frenchmen; business owners are aware of it. But for some reason, they have much less leverage to get things done. There are still no parking areas for musicians to load/unload gear. There are street musicians and performers who exercise their rights to perform, sometimes at the expense of residents, visitors and passersby. There’s no oversight at all on the illegal food vendors and street merchants who set up every evening. Traffic is horrendous and dangerous. The drainage on Frenchmen is pitiful. Music clubs and venues continue to keep their doors open—against the law, and a la Bourbon—to attract customers.
It’s out of control, and the laissez-faire on the part of the city and the police is only helping to exacerbate the situation.
Two NOPD officers stationed on Frenchmen nightly: is that too much to ask?