Why Have New Orleans Music Clubs Been Bullied?

I finally figured out why New Orleans music clubs have been bullied by neighborhood groups: music clubs—and musicians—for the most part, don’t carry the clout they need to have their POV considered.

Consider the recent cases of Mimi’s in the Marigny and Jimmy’s Music Club.

Jimmy Anselmo and his partners fought for the better part of a year to re-open Jimmy’s Club on Willow Street. They had to threaten to sue the city over what was arguably an illegal moratorium.  Despite the fact that Jimmy’s had operated successfully for years (with no real problems with the neighborhood), when Anselmo wanted to reopen the venue, a few neighbors voiced opposition.  Please note that this location has been a bar and music venue for a very long time. (After closing Jimmy’s, Anselmo leased the building to an operator—the Frat House–that alienated neighbors. It was an operation that was apparently not sensitive to the surrounding neighbors and created problems with litter, noise and underage drinking and the fallout from those activities. It took Anselmo months and thousands of dollars to get the club reopened.

Mimi’s in the Marigny had similar issues. For years, Mimi’s had live music. Less than a year ago, a few neighbors complained about the noise from Mimi’s, took the owner to court, and managed to close down the music at Mimi’s—with the help of attorney Stuart Smith, who is the power who backs much of the activity of the so-called “anti-noise” factions in the French Quarter.

Mimi’s reportedly has now obtained a music license, and can offer music once again. Of course, I would bet that the neighboring folks who initiated the legal brouhaha in the first place will soon be calling up Smith again, looking for his legal services to keep Mimi from presenting music. Remember here that Mr. Smith is a smart, connected, wealthy and successful attorney who created the anti-music web presence “Hear The Music–Stop The Noise.”

Anyway…I surmise that the reason why this continues to happen is that music, legitimate music venues and clubs, are just not afforded the respect they deserve by residents, businesses and to a certain extent, by a dwindling number of a few city officials.

It’s great to note that despite their recent troubles, both Jimmy’s and Mimi’s are going to be allowed to present music, and it says that city reps are slowly beginning to show some respect for the city’s music, and to stand up to pressure from the lunatic fringe of squeaky-wheel residents who oppose music in their neighborhoods. Please note, all naysayers and “anti-noise” advocates: without the ability to present music in clubs, New Orleans would not have its reputation as the most musical city on earth. Bourbon Street would not exist: lest we forget that Bourbon Street historically made its reputation on music, not just strip clubs, unlimited booze and raunchy behavior. Frenchmen Street without music? Up-and-coming areas like Freret Street and St. Claude Avenue? I can tell you that without music and musical festivities, these areas would not be coming into their own as destinations, destinations that also attract residents.

It’s agreed that residents need to be able to enjoy peace in their homes. However (and again, for the thousandth time), if you live in an urban, commercial area, you have to expect to experience noise. If you live in New Orleans, that “noise” may be music (oh, horrors!). Get used to it: you live in the middle of a city, a city that’s known for its music.

On the other hand, music clubs, venues and street musicians have to be sensitive to the residents who live in an area. I agree that if the music is loud, there may be a reason to require that a club or music venue install some sound-proofing material to keep loud music from bleeding into the neighborhood. I’ve suggested that if the city requires this in any upcoming noise ordinance revisions, that music clubs and venues be given a tax break to assist them in paying for the installation of acoustic sound-proofing. That way everyone wins.

But back to respect: our CVB (a membership organization) responds, like any business of its kind would, to its members. Hotels and hoteliers are big business in this city and they do carry a lot of clout. So does the restaurant industry here. The hospitality industry is the biggest driver of our economy. They rule the CVB.

Isn’t music a part of the hospitality industry too? Why shouldn’t the CVB assist and respond to the issues that are relevant to the music community? Should the music community pay the $800 or so per year to join the CVB to enjoin some of that respect for membership needs? Or maybe if the music community wants to get really serious, they should start their own membership-only organization with a relatively high price tag for membership. Oh wait, I forgot: music clubs and bars don’t make the money that hotels do. So how can they be represented? That’s an issue that crucial to creating the clout that music deserves. Literally: the money just isn’t there. Money = clout. Money = power. Money = pro-political decisions. Consider, for example, the Jazz & Heritage Festival. Now there’s some money that carries some clout in New Orleans. But that’s the exception, not the rule.

Music and its presenters—clubs, venues, festivals, street musicians, etc. need to be represented and respected by hoteliers and restaurants, by tourism promotion people, by the CVB, the business community, and indeed, by the residents of this city. Music and music businesses also need to be at the table when decisions are made regarding our “hospitality industry.” On the other side of the equation, representatives of the music businesses in the city need to get their act together and speak the same language as other businesses before they can actually get the respect they deserve. Imagine a tattooed group of music lovers and activists in jeans and T-shirts ranting about “Save Our Culture” interacting successfully with a bunch of people in proper business attire who have a business agenda. Not gonna succeed. Not playing the business game with officials who represent the hospitality industry won’t be an effective way of creating change, or engendering the compromise it requires to actually get positive something positive accomplished. Unfortunately, a game has to be played, on the business side’s terms. They do hold the cards and they do have the clout (i.e., the money and organizations that give it to them). That’s the nature of the game.

Suffice it to say that without our music, and the culture that produced it, well, we’d have a lot of great restaurants and great hotels. But why else would people come to the city?

Music  is New Orleans. It’s not just beautiful hotels and great food and a sports team. Without the respect music deserves, and some serious support by everyone whose lives and paycheck are touched by its impact, New Orleans would be…well, Houston.



  • sraw

    As sensible and correct as this argument is, it’s not going to convince anyone already on the anti-noise/residential rights path. These people and their jerk lawyer are too twisted to listen to reason. It’s one more example of a wealthy minority leveraging our byzantine legal system to get even richer at the expense of the vast majority of regular folks, and if we don’t change something more fundamental about our society than city noise and music business ordinances, we will continue to get less and less of the pie. Until that happens and in the meantime, the rich are not fighting fair, so why should we, especially when our lives are at stake?

  • Cher

    OK, first off, I am on the board of CRNA, and secondly I am not speaking for them here, it is only my personal opinion.

    That being said, I agree that that some neighborhood associations use their numbers to put encumbering strain on their neighbor businesses. Part of the reason I joined CRNA is because I heard that was happening from the owners of the businesses I live close to. I did’t like it. I showed up and got involved.

    I believe it is more of an issue of activity than money. Most neighborhood associations have monthly and quarterly meetings. Even though there are over 5 businesses on my block alone (and that’s just on 1 side of 1 block) I cannot remember the last time I saw any of them at a meeting. I go to those businesses fairly often and see the owners if not daily, then weekly. You’re talking about joining the CVB for a ton of money, All I’m saying is to show up and be involved. 3 – 6 hours a month. Our neighborhood association dues are only $25 a year, but you can still show up and talk and listen and be involved even if you don’t pay your dues. (BTW i’m not saying we don’t need the money, cause you know, well, we do, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want your opinions and and help if you can’t swing it.)

    The best things for the business is to be a good neighbor. It makes me feel like I make a difference to our community when I support your business and then you turn around and participate in the neighborhood. I’m not saying that I won’t patronize an establishment that isn’t involved, but I feel a lot better about myself and what I’m doing when you’re as active as I am in making our neighborhood better. Marketing experts will tell you that getting a customer to have that warm fuzzy feeling about your business is priceless. They will return, and even when there are better options they will still choose you over the competition. I get that whenever anyone shows up and wants to be involved and doesn’t want their issue fixed right now and then I never see them again.

    I know your businesses take up a large portion of your life, my fiance is an entrepreneur. I get it. But if you’re not involved how can you get mad when other people are showing up?

    You know I never understood why you gun control people don’t all join the NRA. They’ve got two million members. You bring three million to the next meeting, call a vote. All those in favor of tossing guns… bam! Move on. -The West Wing