Author Archives: Jan V. Ramsey

Frenchmen Street Brass Band Controversy

Have you been on Frenchmen Street lately and heard the brass band?

Remember that big lot on the corner of Frenchmen and Chartres where the brass band used to play every night?

It’s gone. In its place is Dat Dog, a fine and welcome addition to the neighborhood. When construction on Dat Dog started some months ago, the brass band moved across the street to the corner in front of the old Café Brasil, which has been closed for years.

Over the years, numerous complaints from the neighborhood have surfaced about this group, the Young Fellaz Brass Band, who complain about the loudness of the band (well, it is a brass band) and about the hours they play.

Many of the music clubs on Frenchmen Street keep their doors closed, and they’ve had to because the band is so loud. But they’ve adjusted, and have felt that the band is part of the Frenchmen Street milieu.

However, since the band began playing in front of Café Brasil, a lot of safety issues have come up: the band draws such a crowd that they not only block the sidewalk, they also block the street, which makes it difficult—and dangerous—to walk or drive a vehicle down Frenchmen or Chartres.

A couple of months ago, “Brazil Taco Truck” opened at 2106 Chartres Street. This space is on Chartres on the river side of the street and behind the corner where the brass band plays.

The owner has complained about the brass band since he opened. “The band won’t play at a reasonable volume,” he said. “Sometimes they play until til 11:30 p.m. or into the early morning hours. They block the sidewalk and the street, can keep people from coming into the restaurant.” He also contends that members of the band have urinated on the street in front of the restaurant, and regularly smoke pot in front of the restaurant, and have intimidated customers.

This isn’t the first complaint that’s been made about the brass band from this location. The former restaurant occupant of the same location, Melange, opted to shut down rather than try to get the brass band to cooperate.

The police have been called, but have opted not to enforce the existing noise ordinance which prevent high-decibel-level music because they’ve been told that the brass bands are part of the culture and that they have a right to play on the corner.

Other club owners contend that they used to, but now no longer book the Young Fellaz because they’ve started fights with club staff, threatened other musicians, and have “helped themselves” to food and beer from the clubs. The majority of the businesses on the street are fed up with the bad attitude on the part of some of the band members and the troubles they’ve caused in the neighborhood.

A word about the police on Frenchmen Street: Bourbon Street regularly has a force of six officers to patrol their street. There are no officers regularly assigned to Frenchmen. I understand that the NOPD force is down almost 30 percent from where it was a couple of years ago, so Frenchmen Street certainly does not have the protection it needs as a street that is now one of the city’s major music and visitor attractions. Business owners say that many times when police are called, they either don’t show up, or it takes 20 or more minutes for a police officer to respond.  This is unacceptable and must be addressed by the police force.

A few weeks ago, civil rights attorney Mary Howell, representatives of MACCNO, Kenneth Ferdinand, a musician, activist and business owner on Frenchmen Street, and the members of the Young Fellaz Brass Band, headed by Sam Jackson, convened to discuss the growing problems with the band, and try to come up with solutions.

I was also present at this meeting and tried to explain to the band that in order for them to continue to play on Frenchmen, and be welcomed by the rest of the businesses in the neighborhood, that they would have to act professionally, which meant turning down the volume, not playing too late, not smoking weed, and generally respecting the other businesses on the street. The brass band is a part of the atmosphere and ambience on Frenchmen, but as one business owner said to me: “We love the music culture of the city, and we support and respect it. But these guys are not respecting our businesses.  They’re causing trouble; they precipitate fighting; they encourage a ‘marijuana van’ to park and  they can go in and out of it all night. They’re loud and obnoxious. This is not the way it’s supposed to be. We would like to co-exist with them, but we can’t do that because they don’t respect what we’re trying to do in this neighborhood.”

In the meeting with the band, they promised to try to work within the framework of the neighborhood. A week or so after the meeting, the Brazil Taco Truck owner became so frustrated with the loudness of the music that he placed a speaker outside his restaurant and played music that was even louder than the band in an attempt to make them leave. Obviously, this caused a ruckus; members of the band came into Brazil Taco Truck, an altercation ensued with the owner, and the police were called. A few days later the business owner found a note scrawled on a piece of paper stuck into the door in his home on the West Bank: “YOU LIVE HERE. 2 BOYS IN HOME.” He was—obviously—frightened by the note as he perceived it to be a threat.

So the situation has deteriorated.

At what point does a brass band become a detriment to a neighborhood, even one that’s so oriented to live music and local musical culture? How do you draw the line between acting like a professional music group and being people who will use force and intimidation to get your way?

The Frenchmen Marigny Triangle Business Association, which is an organization comprised primarily of the businesses in the 500 and 600 blocks of Frenchmen (full disclosure: I am its president) is unanimous in voting to ask the city to close down the brass band corner. “It’s not that we don’t like the brass bands” said one member. “We do. But they’re not respecting our neighborhood. They’re acting more like the mafia than musicians. There’s a reason why that band has played there for many years. If it were a place where other brass bands could play, it might be different. But this band has managed to ‘claim’ the spot and they won’t allow anyone else to play there.” So it’s about money for the band, as well. They want their spot because they make money there.

The band also contends that musicians who are causing the trouble are not part of Young Fellaz. They are guys who aren’t really members of the band who are coming in and ruining it for everyone. So it appears that there is no self-policing by the band members themselves.

This is a very thorny issue, for sure.

Street music is a part of New Orleans culture. Many of the city’s most respected musicians have come up through the brass band tradition: Kermit Ruffins, Derrick Tabb, Shamarr Allen, Glen David Andrews, Trombone Shorty, and so many more. Brass bands are the way these young musicians actually learn how to play; how to perform in front of an audience; how to actually become professional musicians. And even more importantly, the brass bands offer young musicians a means to make money in a legitimate way, and keeps them from potentially getting in trouble.

Brass bands playing on the streets of New Orleans have always been somewhat problematic: there’s a famous photo taken in 1996 when Trombone Shorty and Glen David Andrews were arrested for playing on the street when they were little boys. By the way, at the time, people called this band–with two of the city’s most currently popular musicians in it–the “Band From Hell.”

If we take away places for brass bands to play, how will these kids learn? If we run them off, what will happen to our musical street culture? How will these musicians hone their art, and be allowed to make music as an expression of free speech?

These are questions that I addressed to the FMTBA members.

All understood, but they feel as though they’ve tried to accommodate the band, and the band is making trouble for the businesses on Frenchmen. “We’re supposed to respect them and we’ve tried, but they don’t respect us” is something I’ve heard again and again.

During the meeting, some members suggested that the city step in with a plan for a place where brass bands can play, get an audience, and attract a crowd safely (it’s certainly not safe on Frenchmen at the moment). I heard suggestions for Washington Artillery Park, the Moonwalk, Woldenberg Park—none of which sound right to me.  There’s been talk of setting up a “Brass Band Alley” in the deserted fleamarket portion of the French Market in the evenings, with possibly a food truck or two in the area.

It’s lighted, deserted and relatively safe. But how could more than one band play there per night? Two or more brass bands there? Wouldn’t work. The cacophony would be outrageous. It would have to be one band only.  But who would take the responsibility of booking the band, making sure the bands showed up and were professional in their behavior?

The FMTBA members even though about trying to establish times when the bands could legitimately play. But could those hours, or would  those times, be enforced with no police to do it? One member even suggested that the band members be required to wear T-shirts that identified them as members of one band or another (don’t know how that could possibly work).

I agree with making sure that street musicians have a place to play. But I also agree that unless the bands can develop a professional attitude and realize that they are part of the neighborhoods they play in, there will continue to be problems.

Where do—and where can and should—these kids play?

I would love to hear your comments and suggestions on this issue.


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French Quarter Fest Awaits

It’s hard to believe that French Quarter Fest is once again upon us, and, as usual, the weather appears to be sterling.

Starting today is the 31st annual French Quarter Festival, an event that has created a niche of its own in the crowded springtime New Orleans festival arena.

Twenty or so years ago French Quarter Festival was the “red-headed tephchild” of New Orleans festivals. They seemed to have sort of an inferiority complex about their festival vis a vis the granddaddy of them all, Jazz Fest.

No more.

The French Quarter Fest has honed its programming, and finally understood that it wasn’t a festival only about the Quarter, it’s more of a music festival  (I am so thrilled that musicians now are being paid by FQF instead of having to find a sponsor to subsidize their performance, as in the early days). Moreover, festival organizers have managed to up their game by acquiring a title sponsor (Chevron) which has put them in a much better financial position than ever before to improve what they offer to festival-goers in terms of music, food and cultural experiences. The most significant thing is that French Quarter Festival is still free to all, which is a blessing, and somewhat of a curse, because the festival has now become so popular that crowds are somewhat overwhelming (and, as I’ve noted in my columns before, they need to widen the footprint of the festival to include Armstrong Park and its now-lovely environment).

The big coup this year for FQF was acquiring Dr. John as the headline performer, thanks to Tropical Isle’s Earl Bernhardt and Pam Fortner, who financed Rebennack’s performance this year. This will be his solor performance during the festival month. It was also was fortunate that Dr. John was in Europe the first weekend of Jazz Fest, and he’s doing his own show at the Saenger—with what we assume would be a much larger payday—the second weekend of Jazz Fest. Whatever. Frnech Quarter Festival scored with this one.

Personally, though, I rarely get the opportunity to go to the big stages, as it’s too crowded for me to get to them. I usually hang at OffBeat’s end of the Quarter on Lower Decatur near the Old Mint, where the magazine will co-sponsor the Brass Band Stage with Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen.

We’ll have the April issue at all the information booths throughout the Festival, available on the shuttle busses, and at our booth on Decatur Street. Please visit us, as we’ll be giving away a lot of good stuff when you stop by and register at the booth.

Please also come by the Louisiana Music Factory when you are looking to complete your music library. They’ve moved (if you weren’t aware) to the first floor of our building at 421 Frenchmen, and the store is better than ever, with the ‘OZ Swamp Shop located within.

Can’t wait for this weekend. See ya out there!



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Is New Orleans the new
San Francisco?

I am an avid subscriber to a lot of magazines, and one of my favorites is New York Magazine.

There are a lot of interesting news pieces in it, written very thoughtfully. I’m just now getting around to reading the “Best of New York” issue from a few weeks ago—it’s busy around here—and I read the piece called “Is San Francisco New York?” with a lot of interest, and see some parallels in the way New Orleans is blowing up these days economically, especially in real estate.

This article details why some people are decamping New York and moving to San Francisco, with “its wealth more impressive, its infatuation with power and status more blinding.”

San Francisco is the city hub for booming tech sector, awash in start-ups that sell for billions after barely being in business for six months. Both New York and San Francisco have always been enormously expensive place to live, but now, it’s ridiculous.

And what has happened there is that if you’re a normal person who isn’t part of a tech-booming company making six figures (even in an entry-level position)—well, you may be out of luck. I fail to see how anyone who works, let’s say as a secretary, or in a restaurant, can possibly make enough money to live in either of these cities.

I had a long conversation with a local musician/engineer/producer yesterday. He bought a house uptown in 2006, and scrimped and saved his money to build his own recording studio behind his house.

It’s only eight years later, and it would be totally impossible for him to do that now.

New Orleans is touting itself as a “tech heaven” and attracting people like crazy to the city. Can’t be a bad thing, since we had a relatively low cost of living, affordable housing and rentals, and of course, a lifestyle and culture to die for. How many techies are decamping to NOLA?

But boy, is that changing. Being a real estate junkie, I’m constantly looking at properties around the city, renovating them in my mind. Last week, I noticed a small house just around the corner from us was on the market for $419,000. Now, it’s only 1700 square feet, it’s a nice renovation, and it’s in Central City.

Priced over $400K?? My jaw dropped.

Obviously from a property owner’s standpoint, having nearby property blow up in a sales price sounds pretty good: that  means that our property is theoretically going to be worth more. But does that now mean that Central City is eventually going to become the next Bywater—with prices so expensive no one but rich people can live there?

One of the most charming and livable things about New Orleans is that there’s a real mix of social classes: middle class and poor people living in the vicinity of the more affluent. It’s always been that way. This is where our culture comes from. This is where our joie de vivre comes from. It’s where our social lack of inhibition—and friendliness—comes from.  Our willingness to share.

We don’t want to turn into a city of rich and super-rich people who think their money gives them privileges and power that they don’t deserve, just because they have money. We don’t want to be New York or San Francisco.

Today I read the latest about the neighborhood association (always trouble) on Newcomb Boulevard that put up a fence in 2006 to create a cul-de-sac to prevent others from using the street as a short cut from St. Charles Avenue to Freret Street. Ostensibly, to “keep their children safe.” Now they want to not only keep the fence; they are offering to buy the street.  Instant gated community! So far the city is opposed, but they are continuing to fight for their “right” to buy the street.

All it takes is enough money, people, and you too can run out neighbors who have lived there for generations, buy a street so you can keep your children safe and keep all that traffic and parking away, and finally turn New Orleans into the Disneyland all the naysayers have been predicting for years.

You wanna live here? Educate people. Support the culture. Live next door to people poorer than you and befriend them. This is what makes New Orleans real and true and authentic.

Gated communities have no place in a big city. Neither does money that ends up destroying the fabric of our culture through snobbery and elitism.


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Who Benefits From Festivals?

Festivals are a huge part of life in New Orleans and throughout Louisiana.

They celebrate our culture, music, food, customs and long-standing traditions. I’ve always thought that it would be a great job to go from festival to festival throughout the state, heading to all the celebrations: Mudbug Madness, the Christmas Festival in Natchitoches, the Baton Rouge Blues Festival, the Islenos Festival in St. Bernard, the Rayne Frog Festival, festivals celebrating sugar cane, boudin, zydeco, French culture, catfish, strawberries—you get the picture.

So many festivals—especially those in the larger cities—are big enough to have a major positive impact on the businesses and economies of the places in which they’re held. French Quarter Festival now calls itself the largest free music festival in the South. What started as an attempt by the New Orleans Mayor’s Office to bring locals back to the French Quarter (because of construction in the quarter prior to the 1984 World’s Fair) has created a hugely attended, quality destination event in New Orleans springtime for locals and visitors.

The festival was originally supposed to attract folk back to the Quarter—the merchants and businesses were suffering from lack of foot traffic. But are Vieux Carre businesses actually benefiting from the original purpose of the festival?

For over 20 years, the emphasis of the festival has moved outside the French Quarter to the river and Woldenberg Park, and to the Old Mint. There used to be more stages on Royal and Bourbon Street; now most of the stages are nearer the river.

Last year, I did an “informal” survey of some businesses on Royal Street, simply by asking a few merchants if their business increased during French Quarter Fest. The results were mixed. Businesses that sold upscale merchandise—antiques, upscale galleries, jewelry—didn’t see much of an increase. “Once the festival got so big—and the fact that it’s free—means people don’t really come to shop for the kind of goods we offer,” said one proprietor of a jewelry store. “We have less people in our store during French Quarter Festival than at normal times during the year.” But other business operators were a lot more positive: “We do great during French Quarter Fest,” said the manager of another jewelry and gift store that sells less expensive merchandise.

There are some restaurants who have said their business drops during French Quarter Festival because attendees tend to do their eating at the food booths sponsored by the event.

French Quarter Festival is a superb event, but maybe organizers should consider moving more activities to the other side of the Quarter, perhaps to Armstrong Park or North Rampart Street. It would spread out some of the crowds and allow them to walk through the Quarter to benefit more of the businesses for whom the festival was started in the first place.

K-Doe and the Golden Rule

I miss K-Doe, I really do.

I really miss Antoinette. I always had such admiration for her. She took Ernie, lifted him up, straightened him out and made him a real star, while at the same time she contributed to the community.  Antoinette was truly the Empress of the Universe. K-Doe is even a bigger star after he and Miss Antoinette passed away. He lives on in (sort of) a corporeal form in the K-Doe statue. His memory and veneration is such that he’s the subject of the Congo Square poster for the Jazz Fest this year (note the photo of me and “K-Doe” sitting together at the Jazz Fest press conference.)

Jan and Ernie, enjoying the sunshine at the Jazz Fest press conference.

You can’t help but smile when you see him, still (somewhat) here, after being deal for almost 13 years. Wonder if the statue he’ll be interviewed in the Grandstand this year?

The noise ordinance issue continues to confound and raise the ire of residents, businesses and musicians alike in the French Quarter and Faubourg Marigny, especially on Frenchmen Street.

Supposedly, Councilmembers Stacy Head and Kristin Gisleson Palmer were to introduce a revised ordinance (again) to the City Council for study. Palmer is serving her last few weeks in office, but has been involved in this issue almost since she was elected to the Council. I believe they want o make an impact before the council welcomes its new members on May 5.

To add another political level to the process (and to his credit), Mayor Mitch Landrieu has convened a series of small meetings with stakeholders (residents, businesses, bands, cultural representatives, bands and business and resident organizations) to try to get a good handle on what needs to be done to build a consensus for a sturdy ordinance that has a chance for enforcement.

The rhetoric on both sides (music community vs. VCPORA) ballooned into a march on City Hall, and the revelation that the attorney who’s filed most of the lawsuits against French Quarter clubs made questionable and potentially threatening comments to Ms. Palmer and to Robert Watters, the head of the French Quarter Management District.

Hopefully, now, cooler heads will prevail, and Landrieu—who has been a mediator for decades—can help further the process.

While I personally have staunchly stood up for musicians and culture-bearers in this issue, I have repeatedly said that there has to be some common ground we can agree on, and an ordinance can be developed. But there must be a consensus among everyone, if possible. Even more important, there has to be a plan to adequately enforce any laws that come out of this process.

The development of the ordinance is an extremely complex matter. But if nothing else, the real reason it needs to exist (and to be enforced) is that some people and businesses just are not courteous to their neighbors. This includes the clubs on Bourbon who allow music that’s so loud it creates a nuisance for other businesses and residents, as well as a brass band that plays on Frenchmen that’s also so loud as to close nearby businesses down.

If life and people acted civilly towards each other, and used the “Golden Rule” in their dealings—well, we wouldn’t have these problems, would we? The rogue Bourbon Street folk would turn it down; the brass band would too, and we could all live and work together in this great city.

Here are a few steps that should be taken:

  1. The City Council should heed the work performed by David Woolworth and use his recommendations in any ordinance that’s proposed.
  2. There should be reasonable limits set up, maybe even on a block-by-block basis so that there’s no “blanket” requirements for the city. Setting one limit in an area is just not feasible.
  3. The “enforcement arm” must be  created and its efforts should be consistent (most recently the Health Department is supposed to be hiring people to monitor sound problems and to mediate these issues, rather than the police).
  4. The city should provide tax incentives to venues that encourage them to install and maintain serious sound-blocking acoustics in their clubs.
  5. Curfews should be removed for musicians, but there should be decibel limitations on how loud they can play during certain times of the day or night.
  6. Signage should be installed throughout the entertainment zones that notify every one of the limitations on times and decibel levels that are acceptable. This seems like a no-brainer to me.
  7. There should be a mediation arm on the city level to address complaints and violations regarding sound violations.

Of course, all residents need to be kind to each other, to understand that our musical culture is an integral part of what makes New Orleans, New Orleans. Mayor Landrieu has rightfully asserted that, when all is said and done, it’s all about money. What would Bourbon Street look like today if it still hosted the kind of music that’s now found on Frenchmen Street? One of the big issues amongst Frenchmen Street businesses is that they do not want Frenchmen to become another Bourbon, with blasting cover bands, T-shirt shops, strip clubs and “huge ass beers.” I think that’s definitely the right attitude. There’s money to be made from tourists who like that sort of thing—and let’s face it: many places on Bourbon pander to that caliber of tourist.

If there’s money to be made when a business operator who doesn’t really care about the culture and the city, and only cares about a quick buck  is allowed to break the law, then we have problems.  More follow. It’s a domino effect.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way to incentivize real live local music throughout the city? If you could make more profit from presenting local music rather than opening another T-shirt shop, wouldn’t that be fabulous? Where would the city be then? Better off?

Yes, it’s complicated. But I think real results will come through getting together one-on-one, talking to our neighbors, relating to their issues, leaving out the inflammatory lawsuits, and discussing ways we can solve our problems amicably.

Golden Rule, y’all.



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Italians Named Joseph

I’m married to a  Italian, no excuse me, a Sicilian, named Joseph. Now the upcoming week is important because less than a week from now, we’ll be celebrating St. Joseph’s Day (March 19), his “name day.”

New Orleans is and has always been a very Catholic city, and as we know, the Catholic faith is the predominant religion in Italy and Sicily (which, by the way is really different from the rest of Italy).

I was also raised Catholic and we celebrated our name day, but certainly not to the extent that Sicilians do.

My husband considers March 19 almost a birthday celebration. He receives congratulatory cards from his Aunt Jo in New York. It’s a big deal.

St. Joseph is obviously a major presence in the Catholic Church, him being the step-father of Jesus and the caretaker of Jesus’ mother. In Italy, St. Joseph is the patron saint, and Italians take St. Joseph’s patronage and protection very seriously.

An elaborate St. Joseph's Altar. (Photo: Kim Welsh)

In New Orleans we celebrate St. Joseph all over the city with St. Joseph Altars. Strangely enough, my Joseph, a 100% Sicilian to the core, had never heard of a St. Joseph’s Altar in Brooklyn, from whence he hales. Apparently the custom of the altars comes from a legend that there was a severe drought in Sicily; the faithful prayed to St. Joseph for rain, and St. Joseph interceded and the rains came. Ever since, Sicilians prepare a banquet to honor their beloved St. Joseph. The banquet has now evolved into the St. Joseph Altar that commemorates the promise the Sicilian people made. A big part of the St. Joseph Altars is a promise to feed the hungry, and there are many traditional foods that are included in the altars, including fava beans, “zeppole”  pastries (sort of like a doughnut, topped with sugar), fig cookies, breads and other Italian delicacies. Since St. Joseph’s Day is typically during Lent, Catholic tradition says that all of the dishes are meatless.

New Orleans had so many Sicilian immigrants that at one time the French Quarter was known as Little Palermo, and obviously these people brought in their customs and traditions. Surprisingly, there are probably more St. Joseph’s altars in New Orleans than anywhere else.

I can remember going to many St. Joseph’s Altars when I was kid (when I was a fervent Catholic), and they were pretty astounding to see. Local photographer and author Kerri McCafferty even produced a book that demonstrates the splendor of the food display—which is distributed to feed the poor after the event.

This weekend, the tradition continues in New Orleans—along with St. Patrick’s Day Parades, Mardi Gras Indian Super Sunday and St. Joseph’s Day—and to add even more spice to the weekend—a run-off election day!

WWL Television published a list of all the St. Joseph’s Altars in the city.

No wonder so many people love this city: so many celebrations, so many cultures, so little time.


We are working feverishly on out two upcoming festival guides: the French Quarter Festival Souvenir Guide (out March 27) and the ultimate Jazz Fest Bible (street date April 21). Look for the French Quarter Fest issue on the Capital One Shuttle Busses, at FQF info booths, at the OffBeat booth near Jax Brewery, and of course, near our stage at the Old Mint, Brass Band Jam, that we are sponsoring with our partner Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen.

One of Tami Curtis' many musicians portraits: "BB King."

Our Jazz Fest Bible will be distributed all over the city, and, of course, near Fairgrounds entrances, and we’ll have a big supply at the Seahorse Saloon at the corner of Fortin and Gentilly Boulevard, our Jazz Fest HQ for years.

Speaking of Jazz Fest: every year we look for a local artist to illustrate our cover (sshh, the cover subject is a secret for now), and this year, OffBeat’s cover artist is Tami Curtis, who has produced a couple of French Quarter Fest posters and many other gorgeous works of art. Tami has exhibited in the Contemporary Crafts area at Jazz Fest for many years, and her style is really distinctive.

I’m also excited to announce that Ms. Curtis is opening her very own gallery at 421 Frenchmen on our first floor. The gallery should be open before French Quarter Fest. Welcome to Frenchmen Street, Tami!



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Mardi Gras Without The Ammo

A relative of mine sent me a joke on Mardi Gras morning via email that at first glance, seemed pretty funny, in light of how much we use digital media to communicate:

“A man received the following text from his neighbor: I am so sorry Bob.  I’ve been riddled with guilt and I have to confess.I have been tapping your wife, day and night when you’re not around.  In fact, more than you. I’m not getting any at home, but that’s no excuse.I can no longer live with the guilt and I hope you will accept my sincerest apology with my promise that it won’t happen again. The man, anguished and betrayed, went into his bedroom, grabbed his gun, and without a word, shot his wife and killed her. A few moments later, a second text came in: Damn autocorrect.  I meant ‘wifi,’ not ‘wife.’”

Yeah, I laughed.

But I immediately started thinking how many people have flown off the handle, pulled out their guns and done something in anger that was dumb, and off-the-cuff, without thinking about it.

Or how many people-usually young men-have a beef with someone else over an unpaid bill, a girl (or guy!), or a drug deal gone wrong that they carry a gun and use it, at will.

St. Charles Avenue shooting during Mardi Gras in 2009. (Photo: Toledo Blade)

I’m assuming that’s what happened over Mardi Gras weekend, when there were three reported shootings (two of them fatal) in downtown New Orleans, leaving one person seriously wounded and two young men dead, at a rap concert in Mardi Gras World.

I think that’s what always happens; it’s just too easy, too convenient to acquire and keep a deadly weapon.

I’m sure that the pro-gun, second amendment, NRA-brainwashed people will jump all over my contention that we do not have to have guns as an integral part of our culture., especially in Louisiana: “Sportsmen’s Paradise.” It’s so very clear that we would have a lot less violence in our city-and our country-without being able to possess guns, legally or illegally.

This morning, there was a full page ad in the local paper for a gun store in Prairieville, that advertised “sport rifles” (something pretty damned similar to an AK-47) that were on sale with “bonus” 800 rounds of ammo. A “sport rifle”? How many rounds of ammo are required to take down a deer—that is, if you must hunt for sport?

Please. This is just ridiculous.

Selling weapons and ammunition like these to the public should be criminalized. Why are these weapons legally sold?

We’re lucky that this year the gun violence was contained to a couple of incidents—at least the ones that the media reported (I tend to think there are more, but they’re not being reported). There were no shootings on St. Charles Avenue this year, thank goodness. Personally, and I’m certainly not making any predictions here, but all it would take is one crazed moron to shoot someone on a float. I’d bet we’d see some changes then.

It’s my dream to see New Orleans become a gun-free city. That way we could all go to concerts, Mardi Gras parades, and walk down the street without being afraid some jerk won’t be using his handgun—or his AK-47 with its 800 rounds. And I’ll bet not only locals but tourists will breathe a big sigh of relief.

Music, not guns. Celebrations, not ammo.


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Keep The Music in Mardi Gras

Let’s face it: music during Mardi Gras is as essential as a good costume and red beans and rice simmering on the stove. Without the marching bands and Mardi Gras anthems—well, it just ain’t Mardi Gras.

Last week I watched a marvelous program about New Orleans’ high school marching bands, and about the Roots of Music:  The Whole Gritty City,  a special two-hour presentation of CBS News’ 48 Hours. It was one of the better documentaries to come out of New Orleans about why our music is so integral to the city’s culture. Viewing it not only made me proud to be involved with New Orleans music, but incredibly appreciative of the men and women who devote their lives to teaching our kids how music can change their lives.

I’m also proud to state that we’ve honored two of the gentlemen who comprised a major part of the story: Wilbert Rawlins, Jr., band director at O. Perry Walker High School, and Derrick Tabb, who founded the Roots of Music.If anyone reading this doesn’t think that our marching bands are one of the backbones of our musical culture, then this film will convince you. If you doubt that Mardi Gras wouldn’t be what it is without our marching bands, then try to imagine a parade with no music. Can’t do it, can you?

The Original Pinettes, with Jazz Henry in front holding a cornet.

This documentary just reinforced my view that that our young kids can be saved by music, not only as a healing force, but a source of discipline, love, self esteem and pride. I loved watching the kids prepare for their big parades during the Mardi Gras season; I loved seeing the excitement, pride and gratification on a job well done on the kids’ faces, on the faces of the crowds, of their teachers and their parents. Jazz Henry, daughter of trombonist Corey Henry played a major role in the documentary (Jazz also is the youngest member of the Pinettes Brass Band, had a role in HBO’s Treme, and accepted her daddy’s Best of The Beat award at this year’s celebration). Watching Jazz, seeing her mom watch over her, encourage her, trying to give her a better life and to “keep her a child” as long as she could was so moving.I would like to personally that the filmmakers for a moving, heartbreaking, and truly hopeful depiction of New Orleans residents, musicians, bandleaders, teachers and kids and laud CBS News for broadcasting it. If you have not seen it, please take the time to view it. You won’t be sorry.

All over the world, in countries that have a large proportion of their population that’s living in poverty, children are being lost to mean streets. El Sistema,” the musical programs that were developed in Venezuela over 20 years ago to benefit children of poverty, have had a real impact on kids.  In fact, the program has been so successful that it’s spread thoroughout Latin America and into the US. There are two El Sistema-themed groups in Louisiana: the Youth Orchestra  of the Lower 9th Ward (now called Make Music NOLA) and the Kids’ Orchestra in Baton Rouge. Of course, we need more of these programs; most of them are funded by donors and arts-related foundations. Why shouldn’t they be funded by the state? What is wrong with our governmental leaders that they cut off a proven method to improve education for all children?

In Jamaica, which has a high poverty rate, I read about a program in Kingston that’s exposing underprivileged kids to a new world. Its programs, too, are experiencing cutbacks in funding from the Jamaican government.

Why have the arts, especially music, been eliminated by our public educational systems? Music education is proven to increase not only musical excellence, but to increase academic achievement, build self-esteem and improve the lives of all children, especially those who are the neediestl. Cutbacks from federal and state governments on music education are hurting our children. Why aren’t we demanding that music be a part of our public educational system?


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Local attorney Stuart Smith tactics revealed in article

My blog has consistently identified local attorney Stuart Smith as the “puppetmaster” and bully behind the Vieux Carre Property Owners and Residents Association (VCPORA) and French Quarter Citizens’ efforts to pass a highly restrictive noise ordinance, which could potentially have a devastating effect on live music in the French Quarter, the Faubourg Marigny and the remainder of the city.

Journalist Richard Webster of and the Times-Picayune wrote a revealing investigative article that shows that Smith, who does not even live in the city full-time, has threatened and intimidated others who have been involved in trying to work up an equitable means to create a viable noise ordinance in the city. A public records request shows that Smith sent intimidating emails to Cm. Kristin Palmer, and threatened local businessman Robert Watters if Smith’s agenda wasn’t followed.  Smith and his public relations firm have consistently attempted to use character assassination and negative spin to cast aspersions on the character and expertise of Dave Woolworth, a principal at Oxford Acoustics, who was hired by the City Council to prepare a report on noise issues, and to suggest potential solutions to the issues at hand. Woolworth was accused of a conflict of interest in the the missives sent out by the “Krewe of Truth,” Brylski’s firm. While it cannot be proven, there was a YouTube videe posted by a fictitious person that disparaged Woolworth’s role in preparing a report.

Smith and his krewe apparently will do anything to achieve their agenda, to the point of character assassination, untruth, intimidation and what could even be considered blackmail.

We applaud Webster’s story and investigation, and recommend that you read the article here.

It’s a pity that Mr. Smith has used not one, but two, citizens’ groups to further his agenda. Mr. Smith is obviously a very smart and competent attorney, and has done some good things for the community (including liberal spending with Loyola University’s law center). Instead of spending his time and money trying to intimidate others in the community, perhaps he should work out a plan and spend his money trying to actually solve a thorny problem, rather than to exacerbate it by the manipulative techniques he’s been using.

The biggest issues in putting together a workable noise ordinance is enforcement. If Stuart Smith really wants to make a positive change in the city, perhaps he should help set up and fund organization that represents all of the interests of the residents and businesses in this city, and not just his own.


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Bullying Is As Bullying Does

Bullying is defined by Wikipedia as “is the use of force, threat, or coercion to abuseintimidate, or aggressively impose domination over others. The behavior is often repeated and habitual. One essential prerequisite is the perception, by the bully or by others, of an imbalance of social or physical power. Behaviors used to assert such domination can include verbal harassment or threat, physical assault or coercion, and such acts may be directed repeatedly towards particular targets…”

We have a bully in New Orleans.

Readers of this blog have noted the tie-ins between the Vieux Carre Property Owners and Residents Association and French Quarter Citizens.

Both groups engage attorney Stuart Smith as their attorney.

If you recall, Stuart Smith is the wealthy plaintiff attorney who is behind VCPORA’s effort to pass their agenda through the City Council.

It’s ironic that Smith is engaged by these groups. He doesn’t actually live in the French Quarter, although he does own properties at 508 and 516 St. Philip Streets; he counts his multi-million condo in Miami Beach as his home residence. Apparently, his property on St. Philip is his “second home.”

Recall also that all the recent brouhaha regarding the restrictive ordinance as proposed by the VCPORA was precipitated by Smith’s attempt to close down the Market Café’s music back in the mid 1990s. This is sort of laughable, considering that the Market Café’s music is probably some of the more “chill” music in the Quarter.

Bullying in New Orleans-Stuart SmithSmith attempted to get the city to stop the music through zoning regulation complaint, but this  obviously didn’t work because, thankfully, there’s still some very nice music being played at the Market Cafe every day.

Many years and lawsuits later, Smith is still on his bullying crusade to make sure he gets his way. Lawsuits against clubs in the French Quarter, Marigny and Bywater have ensued.

Since Smith has considerable financial strength, he has hired a politically-savvy publicist, Cheron Brylski, to spin whatever agenda he ordain. Brylski has worked in politics and political campaigns–the halls of power and influence–for years.

When I was young and a lot dumber than I am now, I didn’t realize that there are companies and individuals whose entire income stems from politics:  campaign work, political public relations and the like. Brylski’s company is one of those firms that derives the bulk of its income from “paid political announcements” through its newsletter, the persuasively-named “Krewe of Truth.”

Brylski is being paid by Smith in some capacity to send out “Krewe of Truth” missives that perpetrate his agenda. The latest inferred (Brylski and Smith are really good at inferring) that “[the] vocal opponents [of their proposed noise ordinance] had a great deal of success in wrongly portraying this as ‘an anti-music bill,’ alarming many who haven’t followed the issue closely and who would be rightly defensive of such a move. And yet they have proposed no solutions of their own [except for Oxford Acustics report, sponsored by CM Kristin Palmer's office]. What’s sad is that this opposition seems to stem only from manipulation…manipulation of publications dependent on their advertising for survival and manipulation of passionate but ill-informed constituents.”

Oh, really? Note that OffBeat isn’t mentioned by name, but we are obviously the target of this diatribe that claims we are only in this game for advertising money, and that ad money is what’s motivated our opposition to the tactics of Mr. Smith, the VCPORA, French Quarter Citizens, and Brylski, their mouthpiece.

Obviously, these people are “misinformed” about OffBeat‘s stance on this issue, and have only begun to pay attention to this blog and the magazine vis a vis the noise ordinance issues. If they had, they would understand that OffBeat has supported musicians, live and recorded music, clubs, retailers, the music industry, and a fair resolution to the noise issues in the city that is a product of compromise and fairness to all. For 26 years. We won’t be bullied.

Smith and Brylski’s blogs and emails are obviously spin for Smith’s agenda, but a recent Brylski email  (on behalf of Smith, obviously), was delivered that in my opinion set out to defame acoustics expert David Woolworth of Oxford Acoustics. Woolworth was hired by Kristin Gisleson Palmer’s office to do a study on the noise issues in New Orleans and to make recommendations to create a solution to the problem. He did just that and presented his report in August after extensively interviewing hundreds of musicians, individuals, clubs, health experts, residents and more. A highly-edited deposition conducted by Smith in September (after the release of Woolworth’s report) was posted on YouTube by one “Emil Sinclair” (a fictitious name; apparently Brylski and Smith didn’t want it to be known that their camp posted it). I refuse to link to this video, because it’s a blatant attempt, ostensibly by the spin doctor Brylski, to paint Woolworth in a negative light by accusing him of a conflict of interest in his dealings with the city. Frankly, if I were Woolworth, I’d go after YouTube and whoever posted the video for defamation. However, if you do view it, you can easily see  Smith’s bullying tactics. He’s obviously intends  to discredit Woolworth–to further his own agenda.

In a revelatory article by Richard Webster, it’s interesting to note that the VCPORA’s “audio consultant,” whom the VCPORA has touted as an expert, has ties to Stuart Smith.

It’s apparent that there’s a power war going here and Smith is honed in on doing whatever it takes to win. Remember, he’s a well-respected and highly successful plaintiff attorney, and obviously doesn’t take well to losing.

What I don’t think that Smith and his cohorts  realize—paid and otherwise patronized by him—is  that their “Krewe of Truth’s” attempted manipulation just isn’t working. Or maybe they just didn’t realize that the old ways of political spin doctoring aren’t as effective as they used to be, because it’s too easy to find out the truth. The attack on Woolworth was just plain nasty, and the Webster article called him on it.

Additionally, the backlash against Smith, the VCPORA and Brylski’s  political posturing, blatant use of negativity to influence the city council, the media and the justice system, is going to cost them credibility, except perhaps for the organizations and people he has on his payroll. I guess money can buy any bully the support and love he needs.

My biggest concern is that Smith, who has enough money and power to outlast any little guy who may come up against his agenda, will continue his bullying quest to make the New Orleans French Quarter—and the rest of the city—his personal power playhouse.

It’s time for Mr. Smith and his people to do something to make a positive change that wil benefit the entire city by way of compromise, and stopping his harmful attacks on entities who are trying to create a city that’s livable for all: residents, musicians, culture-bearers and businesses alike.


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