Bourbon Street—in my lifetime—was New Orleans’ “music street” until it turned into more of a place for visitors and tourists to hear live music. For a decade, Frenchmen was the place locals went to hear live music, but once the word got out, the atmosphere on Frenchmen changed. I’ve heard more and more from locals that they don’t go to Frenchmen anymore, which is really sad.
“It’s turned into the ‘drunken Texan’ crowd,” said a Frenchmen Street clubowner I spoke to recently. “And there’s nothing anyone cn do about it.”
Yes, the word got out—as it inevitably will. It’s not something that can usually be prevented, especially in New Orleans, where laws are, shall we say, made to be broken. There are a lot of reasons this occurred, most of it to do with money. Once the word got out that Frenchmen was a music “brand,” several operators moved onto the street and jumped on the music bandwagon. But as I mentioned in a previous Mojo Mouth, cover charges for music are becoming scarce, which means musicians may not be getting a fair wage in some cases.’
This is not to say that clubs that do not regularly charge a cover try to stiff the musicians; that’s not always true. But it is true that the music on Frenchmen has lost its reputation amongst locals as a cool place to go hear music. Too many tourists, and too many people who really don’t appreciate the music. As I’ve posited before: when the music is free and can be heard from the street because club and bars are open, more to lure Frenchmen Street walkers in to drink rather than to hear music, this is a the result.
This is a phenomenon that happened on Bourbon, and unless there are iron-clad and enforceable and enforced rules, the same thing would happen in any location in the city that had the music clubs proximate enough to create a music “scene.”
This doesn’t happen when music venues are more scattered about, like uptown. When I was out listening to music several nights a week, I would go to Oak Street (there were four music venues close to each other then (the Maple Leaf, Jed’s/Muddy Water’s, Jimmy’s and Carrollton Station). Now only one of those (the Leaf) still has music seven nights a week (sad). And then to Tip’s, which was a drive away.
It’s clear that cover charges create and preserve a better atmosphere for music and musicians.
But are there enough bars that offer music that would (or could) honor that business model? This would definitely preserve the concept of a music club.
Can the city legislate an entertainment district that requires bar owners to charge a cover for entry?