Splintering Music Choices

Some 30 years ago before there was an OffBeat, there was no music writer at the daily newspaper (back then the Times-Picayune in its old “real” newspaper incarnation) was the only choice. There was Wavelength (which I almost bought, folded in 1991), but there wasn’t any coverage of music business news at all. Gambit had a freelance music writer (Geraldine Wyckoff). But there was really no other music media in town. And then OffBeat was born. There was a small alternative music paper called No Cover that didn’t last very long.

Now every media in town covers music, culture, festivals: OffBeat’s bailiwick and hallmark content.

The Times-Pic, uh, I mean NOLA.com, recently instructed its music writers that they could no longer have that “beat,” so to speak, and that they’d need to do more general reportage. So NOLA.com has a few writers who write about music and a lot of other stuff too. The New Orleans Advocate hired NOLA.com’s Keith Spera to cover music, but from what I can see in their paper, music hasn’t had a primary role in what the paper covers. Neither does Gambit Weekly, unless it’s a “music” or a Jazz Fest issue. Certainly not the light content Where Yat. The only music-centric mag in town other than OffBeat is Antigravity, a black & white alt tabloid that still has some editorial integrity, and is oriented towards new bands. I applaud their ability to keep it going.

The point is that the music market—while it’s our beat (pun intended)—is certainly not what it used to be when we started. Everyone has music coverage now, of some sort. The readership has obviously splintered, and is more in flux than it used to be. I’m going to make a comment that will probably get me in trouble, but they don’t call me “Mojo Mouth” for nothin’: I’m still waiting for the iconic bands and musicians to make their appearance. The older guys are eventually going away. Even the established funksters are aging (like George Porter, the Meters, the Funky Meters). Hell, even the bands that were kids when OffBeat started—that are still around—like Davell Crawford, Cowboy Mouth, Kermit Ruffins, Rebirth, Lynn Drury, Anders Osborne, Big Sam Williams, even Amanda Shaw—aren’t kids anymore.

Who are the new future music icons of New Orleans? Are the glory days of the city’s music scene and culture ending? Are bands like the Revivalists, Flow Tribe, the Deslondes, New Birth Brass Band, Trombone Shorty, Honey Island Swamp Band, Brass-a-Holics, Darcy Malone, Aurora Nealand, Irvin Mayfield, Big Freedia—the future musical icons in the city? Do they have the staying power of the Radiators, Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas, the Meters?

Yes, interest in music has splintered into a thousand pieces, which is actually probably a good thing. But can those splinters coalesce to appeal to enough music lovers locally and around the world to maintain New Orleans’ reputation as a real music city? Or will they not have staying power and fade into oblivion? Can media such as OffBeat and Antigravity continue to keep music in the spotlight? What further impact will the evolution of new media and social media have on whether or not New Orleans remains a true music city, and not just another place to party with music as background noise?

  • John Swenson

    Provocative piece will ruffle a lot of feathers. Music reflects the time it exists in. The icons you cite will indeed pass just as the ones before them did. Contemporary musicians don’t have to worry about becoming icons; they just do their thing. No one knows how an artist will develop, but it’s clear that a number of young people who migrated to New Orleans after Katrina now represent the future of New Orleans music. How that future is perceived is unknowable until that future arrives.