I read a piece about the music market on the North Shore today, about how tough it is to attract a decent crowd to a music club. There’s just not enough of a market of music lovers on the North Shore to sustain a real music scene. Too bad, but then it’s sort of the nature of the beast. The vast majority of North Shore residents (and other suburbs, for that matter), are more family-oriented. There’s little or no “night time economy.” Let’s just say the New Orleans suburbs are pretty much like the rest of the South.
So it was very ambitious and gutsy for the Howlin’ Wolf to open a second club in Mandeville. Howie Kaplan, the Howlin’ Wolf’s owner, is to be congratulated for taking the bold step of a creating a second club. Kaplan has been dedicated to the New Orleans music scene for a very long time. He owned a club in Metairie, and scooped up the Howlin’ Wolf when its original owner, Jack Groetsch, moved on to other things. Other clubs in New Orleans have been involved in charity fundraising (House of Blues and Tipitina’s are predominant) but the Howlin’ Wolf has been getting more and more active in fundraising events for the city and has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for local charities at the events they’ve hosted. In fact, the club recently turned over a $52,000 check to the New Orleans Musicians Assistance Foundation, the fundraising arm of the New Orleans Musicians Clinic, as a result of the Wolf’s hosting a fundraiser during Jazz Fest. “It’s the most successful fundraiser in the history of the ‘Wolf,” said Kaplan. Congratulations and thanks for supporting a great cause.
Sometimes I think something is wrong with me (okay, all you people who think I’m a bitch, go ahead and jeer, see if I care!). Often it’s hard for me to focus on OffBeat; I have so many ideas for projects that could benefit the city that I wonder why I turned out this way. Why do I care? Why can’t I just mind my own business?
Occasionally, I consider the fact that I’ve been beating this music drum for about 25 years now and wonder what hell I’m doing. I’m impatient that many of the so-called “movers and shakers” in the city don’t operate on the same wavelength that I do and don’t see the potential in creating a music museum, a center where visitors and locals alike can learn something more about the music that makes New Orleans very, very special and unique; a place where a visitor can get educated about where to not only hear and experience all types of music. They can’t seem to understand the potential of a plan to transform New Orleans into a high-profile music mecca that attracts hundreds of thousands of international visitors every year. I was appalled when I recently heard a staff member from a local tourism organization wondering why a band couldn’t play for free for an event for the “exposure.” What?!?
Okay, I have to admit that OffBeat may not be on the reading radar for some of the business executives in the city (it should be, people!). One thing OffBeat has been able to do is to raise the consciousness of other media in New Orleans vis a vis music. CityBusiness is now doing pretty regular pieces on issues that affect the music and entertainment community (thanks, guys!). The Times-Pic has also done so much more music coverage in the last 15 years or so. So have other print pubs, and even local television stations are jumping on board. All well and good.
But what I see for the most part is that music is still not perceived as an economic engine for the city. The film industry is far and away perceived as a more important economic stimulus and job provider. And in a lot of ways, music will never be able to compete with film and telelvision production. This industry brings in a lot of money from outside the city; the job creation is evident.
The influence of music is not so evident and is a lot more subtle in that it permeates out culture; it almost defines the city. Film was a new idea. How do we put music in forefront of the agenda for the movers and shakers?
Jazz Fest isn’t enough, although it’s arguably the most important event in the musical history and saga of the city, and has paved the way for the success of the French Quarter Festival and the Voodoo Experience. All three of these events put music front and center. And guess what: the audience RESPONDS. The city responds.
I’ve been beating the drum for two and a half decades now. How long will it take?