Times change, they do. OffBeat has been in the business of promoting local music, musicians, bands and advocating for music and culture for a long time; 30 years, in fact. When the magazine started it was classified as really “alternative.” Maybe because it was printed on newsprint. But it also contained a ton of information on local music, which no media outlet was covering in those days, except for Wavelength, which closed its doors in 1991.
Since the early days, though—I like to think because OffBeat existed—other print media owners started looking at music as “worthy” of journalistic ink (probably because they also perceived that OffBeat was managing to sell advertising to support the mag). Thus, throughout the mid-1990’s and early 2000’s, music coverage in New Orleans was at its peak. Fair enough. Music was getting more and more in the spotlight.
OffBeat’s goal has always been to prove that we are indeed the most musical city on the planet, and since the end of the 19th century New Orleans has been, at least to the hundreds of thousands of people who come to the city to experience our music and culture. To locals, not so much.
There’s a staunch core of music fanatics in New Orleans, some of whom literally moved here because they love the city so much. Of course there are the college students who come from all over the world to experience New Orleans as their home during their time in universities. They’re music fans too, mainly because younger folk listen to new music and go out to see live music a lot more than old settled people do (music clubs have always been a great way to meet a potential partner, dontcha know). Then there are the people who visit New Orleans, and were relatively neglected music fans, which is the major reason OffBeat has always been distributed free in local hotels all year round.
But as I sit in my office on Frenchmen Street, I can clearly perceive that the market for live music in New Orleans is not quite the same as it used to be.
Are there less local people who rabidly consume live local music? Is there’s more of a “scene mentality,” and less appreciation of the musicians, the bands, the art form?
I noticed this on my recent cruise. Yes, the people were drinking and partying. But they were into the music. No one was yabbering to their friends. No one was glued to their mobile phone during performances. The listening attention span seemed longer to me. It was less about the party and more about the music.
Are there truly as many true live local music fans now as there were 20 years ago? Or do New Orleans’ golden years as a music city belong to the older generation?
Our musicians are aging. Who are the next generation of New Orleans musicians who will have impacted local worldwide music in the next 20 years a la Allen Toussaint and Fats Domino?