Noisy Parks?

Okay, so I’m out of town at SXSW, and I get this email from Leo Watermeier, who’s lived on North Rampart for some years and who maintains the antique rose gardens in Armstrong Park. Leo is a self-appointed guardian of the park and calls himself “Friends of Armstrong Park.” He’s a good guy, but remember, he lives on North Rampart and says he loves music—but only if it’s at a level that doesn’t disturb him personally:

New Armstrong Park Concert Series Raises Noise Concerns

Yesterday’s announcement by People United for Armstrong Park (PUfAP) of 9 Thursday evening concerts between April 18th and June 13th has some in the neighborhood concerned. This same group organized a spring and fall concert series last year. The concerts started off relatively small and the music was generally amplified at a reasonable level. But as the concerts grew the amplification became louder and louder, impacting both neighbors and other park visitors. By the last 2 concerts of the fall series, 2 of the featured artists requested from the stage that amplification levels be lowered. (I myself heard Jazz singer John Boutte admonish the sound crew to lower the volume for his set saying,  “I like good music, not loud music”. I’ve heard from residents as far away as the 1300 block of Ursuline St. in Treme that the loud amplification from last fall’s concerts disturbed them. At yesterday’s press conference, I expressed this concern privately to Emmanuel Lain, PUfAP president, and Benjamin Harwood, vice-president. (Full disclosure: I’m a dues paying PUfAP member and have generally supported their efforts as bringing fresh energy to help solve longstanding problems.) They were receptive to the concern and said they had plans to adjust the speakers to lessen the noise impact of their concerts. Hopefully, they can develop a plan that allows concert goers to enjoy the music while not disturbing other park visitors or neighbors. I’ll report on the results and welcome your feedback.  Leo Watermeier

So I shot him an email back:

This is the same old problem that has prevented the development of North Rampart as a commercial corridor over the past 20 years-which it rightfully should be. The people who live in this area need to live in a quiet suburb, not in the center of an urban area. Armstrong Park contains the epicenter of music in this city.  Armstrong Park and North Rampart should be a vibrant thriving area with lots of foot traffic that is safe and is a city destination. It’s certainly not that right now. How can you attract businesses to North Rampart if you prevent activity and music? MUSIC IS THE KEY to this.I would venture to guess that the  thousands of citizens who live in Treme and in the Quarter near North Rampart welcome the fact that we have activity and music in Armstrong Park again. I don’t care that three or four people voiced complaints–or even 10 or 20–these are probably the same people who complain whenever their hear music which disturbs their suburban mentality.Here we go again. I can just see the VCPORA and the “Stewart Smithers” marshalling their considerable and money-fortified forces to put a stop to music in the park with a PR campaign designed to blast local music as noise. Shame on them. They do not speak for all the citizens who live in the area. They speak for an extremely small group of people who want to strictly control their environment, NOT the majority of citizens.There have been many events in the park. The Jazz & Heritage Foundation uses it regularly for concerts and festivals. Armstrong Park and North Rampart should have provisions for music events, music venues and entertainment.To prevent music and these activities denies our heritage, and frankly, smacks of elitism.

Okay, so maybe I overreacted. But I’m so tired of the residents on that side of the Quarter griping about music in Armstrong Park and on North Rampart. Armstrong Park is our park. It contains Congo Square, the most sacred music landmark in New Orleans. We deserve to make it a place where we can gather together, listen to music, commune with our neighbors and enjoy ourselves. We need people in the park, and on that side of the French Quarter. Music is a perfect way to do that, especially knowing that there’s a new streetcar line being constructed there. The more people, the less crime, and the more our musical heritage will be preserved. The park itself is still sort of uncharted territory, music-wise, but North Rampart has absolutely no provisions for music. You can’t get a music permit, period.

Could Armstrong Park be next?


  • GoodNeighbor

    So Jan, if it’s true that even two performers asked that the sound be lowered, even if one of those was John Boutte, you’re still going to turn this into a non-compromising type thing, that all your opponents are suburbanites? I’m as exasperated with your perspective as I am of the VCPORA crowd. Why can’t there be music that is not anything-goes loud (the BUKU fest or neighborhood bars that don’t act neighborly) and doesn’t run all night. Most of us like music, that’s one reason we love NOLA, but many of us don’t like it obnoxiously loud and do have to get some sleep. The city has gotten louder. Bourbon St. is now indicative of that. There is a happy medium, but it will be found with the lessening of the levels.

  • GoodNeighbor

    Further, in rereading Watermeier’s email and your response, the idea that anyone who wants music to just not be so loudly amplified is attempting to stop or prevent music is as logically ludicrous as gun nuts who claim that responsible and reasonable gun laws mean that their firearms are going to be confiscated. Jan, the histrionics and extremist position doesn’t help matters. You have too big of a bully pulpit to use it irresponsibly and inaccurately.

  • Paul

    I attended most of the events at Armstrong park this past season. John Boutte always calls for next to zero amplification, so citing him as an example of a potential problem is going overboard. I’m fairly sensitive to loud music (ear issues) and not once did i discern an issue at Armstrong Park. The events end very early and will not disturb anyone on a normal sleep schedule. Some folks just don’t want commercial activities near their residences. The proliferation of the signs against the proposed restaurant at Esplanade and Rampart (a longstanding vacant eyesore) is embarrassing. I live within a block of that area, and would welcome it, together with a return to other commercial/music venues on Rampart. Kenner has plenty of sterile suburban areas for those who value their anti-sptic lifestyles.

    • Jan Ramsey

      The problem with the “no music, because it may get potentially too loud” is that they say they love music, but that extends only to what they put their blessing on. For example, if you could guarantee that only three-piece acoustic bands would play in Armstrong Park, they MIGHT be accepting of that. But add horns or a bass or drums? Hah! Then it gets dicey. And I ask you, what is New Orleans music without a beat and brass?
      Paul is correct: some people don’t want commercial activities near their residences. They tolerate commercial if it’s a restaurant or a retail establishment–you know, one of those businesses you can find in a mall in Metairie. These types of businesses have been proven to have a very rough time on North Rampart because there’s just no foot traffic over there at all, and the folk who live over there and control the political landscape don’t want foot traffic. My attitude is that if you choose to live in the Quarter or near the Quarter, or downtown, then you need to realize that you will be subjected to stuff you won’t be subjected to in a suburb, especially in a town that’s made its reputation on parties and whose economy is based on tourism. It’s a fact; get used to it. They want to live in the Quarter because it’s old and unique but it IS IN AN URBAN NEIGHBORHOOD. How hard is that to understand? North Rampart and Armstrong Park would have come a lot further over the past 15 years if these people were not calling the shots and keeping music out of the park and off North Rampart Street. It has nothing to do with “preservation.” It has to do with maintaining a quality of life they feel they are entitled to because they have the resources to live in the Quaint Quarter. There have been many plans to make North Rampart a “jazz corridor” and they have all be squashed by the same crowd of people who don’t want anyone disturbing their hood. What kills me is that they’d rather have hookers and drug dealers (they are quiet, after all) rather than people dancing and end enjoying local music.

      • JJ

        “New Orleans is a party town!” – Bobby Charles
        Any questions?

  • Letthemusicplay

    Thank God for people like you who aren’t afraid to speak and write the truth!

    • Can’t tell you how much I enjoy this conversation. It is like an installment of HOB’s TREME’ and there be substance on both sides, but we are talking about Treme’ as much as the Quarter. Music wins this fight even in the French Quarter it is not likely to lose it in Treme’ the epicenter of New Orleans music. See you for Drum Round in Congo Square Saturday and Sunday. Gott bless the Jazz Fest! Back in Armstrong Park. PS: Love those roses, Leo. Keep up the good work.

  • Phil Nizialek

    Is there some forum where folks of good will on the opposite sides of this debate can meet and try to work out these issues? Right now it seems as if the people on the extreme edges control both the debate and any action. As soon a any new venue (the proposed restaurant at Esplanade and Rampart), old venue (reopening Donna’s after she and Charlie left), or new idea (music festivals in Armstrong Park) is floated, certain elements in the neighborhood pull their “quality of life” long knives and take us back to square one. On the other hand, I am sure that certain developers and local money men would turn N. Rampart into the 400 block of Bourbon, complete with T-shirt and daiquiri shops, if they were left unchecked. Nobody in the neigborhood wants that either. In my humble view, for what it’s worth, live music is part of the hisory and tradition of N. Rampart and Armstrong Park. Surely some use and development plan can be worked out where venues on the street can reasonably provide entertainment, and those who want 24 hour quiet compromise as well. Just for the record, I believe in unicorns, too.

    By the way, whatever happened to N. Rampart Main St.? Did they just disappear on their own, or were they killed by the higher powers in the Quarter? Are they, or some similar organization, possibly the forum I seek?

    Finally, I discuss this issue with Leo on a more or less regular basis over at the park. We have polite conversations, even though we disagree on major issues. It’s possible to do this. It’s also better for the conversation if people in a forum like this use their real names. I don’t think VCPORA have an SS unit yet. Oops, got to go feed the unicorns.

    • Vincent Marcello

      Phil, North Rampart Main Street is alive and well and is working to hard to promote N. Rampart. We are a sponsor of the concert series.

      • Phil Nizialek

        I am glad to hear that, Mr. Marcello. I have not seen an annual report since 2010. Can you send me a link where I can see latest developments an d projects? Thanks

  • I have to agree with GoodNeighbor. Watermeier said nothing about stopping the music altogether. Reasonable volume was discussed.

  • Albert McMeen

    The truth is that there are plenty of concerts in and around Armstrong Park, and we are not asking them to stop. As a very nearby resident, we hear music coming from drums on Sunday in Congo Square (and who could deny those who enjoy the historical significance of it). Bands stop regularly in front of the park. Christian religious groups disembark their buses in front of the Park, then get fired up with megaphones and sing in large groups standing on Saint Ann St. Second lines come past the Park and down Saint Ann St at least once a week. The concerts Leo is referring to are so loud (remember he is in the back of a cottage on North Rampart, not actually on the street) that it can make it difficult to walk anywhere near that part of the park. This is obvious because I have never seen more than 50 people near the stage from where I live across the street. Thus, we are we being asked to trade a few homeless people camping out for music blasted at a high volume to increase “vibrant retail trade” on North Rampart? Your agenda remains opaque from your response: NO ONE is asking for the concerts to stop!

  • JohnInTucson

    My apologies if I’ve posted this here before but I consider it a valuable lesson in matters of music and volume. Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, I worked on an outdoor blues festival in Tucson. A battle developed between those in the blues fest producing organization and other music organizations and the neighbors across the street. The sound was blasting from the natural amphitheater in the park into the neighborhood. The music producers made the argument about the importance of the music and the neighbors made the competing argument regarding the noise disruption in their neighborhood. It was one faction versus the other and there appeared to be no middle ground. At a city council meeting on the matter, I observed that because the speaker stacks were all on the stage and the grounds were sloped up away from the stage for outdoor seating, the sound techs had to use raw power to get the sound up to the top of the seating area so they really cranked it. I knew it was too loud because if you got a reasonably located seat not too far from the stage, the sound was muddy because of how overpoweringly loud it was. I suggested an updated sound system with a series of delay speakers placed at several locations in the seating area so that the overall loudness could be reduced and the attendees at the events would enjoy higher quality (not just lower volume) sound. The technology existed then and it was implemented. The sound at the events and the sound reaching (or not reaching) the neighborhood got better for everyone. And that was more than 20 years ago. I’ve been away from producing for quite a while but I know audio technology has advanced since then. I’m sure there is a way to produce music events with quality sound properly dispersed in the area where the audience is likely to congregate but not using the crutch of too-high volume to push the sound out because it’s not well designed. Not all problems of this nature lend themselves to technological fixes but it’s definitely worth a try. It does not have to be “no music versus too-loud music” that defines the argument. I’d suggest everyone take a deep breath and look for a way to make this better. When we’re in town, we go to Armstrong Park and walk through Congo Square just to feel it. I think the fact that the park is having musical events is a huge deal. Please – make it work.

  • Harry Shearer

    The question, IMHO, isn’t whether or not there’s music in the park but, as in so many other instances around town and elsewhere, rather the issue is the decibel level of the music. I’m on Dauphine, and I heard the mic PA pretty loud. Long way from the venue. Sound travels. Not every music event has to sound like a tricked out SUV.

  • Goatsound

    God bless jan Ramsey!! You nailed it! So well stated. Thank you.

  • I LOVE music and I go to music clubs, bars and street festivals, and I would never advocate for music to be stopped anywhere. But, a lot of the music is loud enough to damage musicians’ and listeners’ hearing permanently. I carry ear plugs everywhere I go, and when I’m out with friends, they’re often grateful that I have an extra pair for them. I know many musicians worry about damaging their hearing (their greatest asset) through stage noise. There’s no reason we can’t talk reasonably about turning the music down a little and measuring decibels.