Is New Orleans A Music City?

We at OffBeat are pretty biased (well, probably more than a little biased) towards calling New Orleans a music city. In fact, we’ve even dubbed it the “most musical city on earth,” probably in response to Austin’s grab of the moniker “the live music capital of the world.” We see and hear from people from all over the US and the world about their love for New Orleans music. So we’re kind of immersed in feeling that way about our city.

Remember that Austin city leaders were looking to find a way to market Austin, so now it’s “weird” and “the live music…blah blah.” But New Orleans is, if nothing else, a real Music City.

New Orleans’ most-commonly used nickname is the “Big Easy” (a designation I dislike, because if anything, it’s not necessarily easy to live here). We put up with political corruption, laissez-faire in a lot of things that shouldn’t be, the weather, humidity and stupidity, mold and mildew and potholes. Whatever.

What makes up for the pain is our music, food, community and joie de vivre. Cheap rent used to make it easier (no longer), but all in all, what makes New Orleans truly unique is the city’s love and cultural reliance on music as its calling card. We are truly unique.

Go outside the US and mention New Orleans. Our cuisine isn’t what people are interested in; no, it’s our music. So, not by virtue of city fathers looking to increase tourism (as in Austin), but by acclamation, New Orleans is, indeed, a Music City.

The difference is that Austin, Memphis and Nashville use their self-proclaimed “music city” designations to promote their respective cities; New Orleans doesn’t have to. We have too much other great stuff going on here to focus on just our music (more’s the pity). Music kind of gets lost in the shuffle of all the other good stuff: Mardi Gras, festivals, food, round-the-clock drinking, history, architecture, its spiritual roots, the any-excuse-for-a-party mentality. The attraction of New Orleans are loaded with stuff that any local, or visitor can appreciate.

NewOrleansMusicOfficeIt seems, though, that while music pervades our culture, our festivals, events and parties, it’s still taken for granted by the people who live here.

Not enough attention is paid to our musical culture and heritage, except when the city is bombarded by visitors during Jazz Fest and to a lesser extent, French Quarter Fest, who are here for their annual pilgrimage to what I call the “Church of New Orleans.” These people worship our music. They are fanatical about it. It’s like a religion. It’s the reason they visit and can also experience our food and culture. Music is the gateway to experiencing the rest of New Orleans.

Unfortunately, there’s no official organization that’s dedicated to promoting the idea that our music is the sacred gateway to the rest of the city’s charms, unless you count the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, which is focused on its own activities and programs (which surely cannot be diminished in any way).

At one point in time, we used to have a representative in the Mayor’s office who headed up a Music Office. Unfortunately that was pre-Katrina, and I personally don’t think our mayor at the time gave it much thought (not did he give it any budget to accomplish anything). It may be time to revive that concept: a team that could work closely with tourism officials, law enforcement, education, permitting, and economic development. We’re missing that now, and I don’t believe we’ll be able to legitimately call New Orleans a “Music City” unless there’s someone who advocates for the music community and its economic impact all year long. What do you think?

Do you think the City of New Orleans should specifically create a Music Office? What could/would this office be charged with accomplishing?

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