Where do the brass bands go?

Jazz Fest is over; the nitrous hustlers have been busted on Frenchmen; let’s hope they stay away.

Frenchmen Street is still crowded. As I write this, and for most of this week, Bamboula’s on Frenchmen has been draped with a black tarp, presumably to block sunlight since there’s filming of a show that’s being presented in the building that’s attracting block-long lines of guests.

Bamboula’s also hosted a lot of music in its adjacent Festival Theater during Jazz Fest. Owners of the venue reportedly knocked down the back wall of its front room and installed a lockable “garage” door that can enlarge the front room so that it expands into the Festival Theater area, thus making the entire first floor a large venue. There were several complaints of noise during the Jazz Fest from neighbors who live behind the theater.

Problems continue to plague Frenchmen as a whole, however: the street is becoming more and more crowded with tourists expecting a French Quarter entertainment “experience.” The more people there are, the more trash is created. There’s no place for trash cans to be stored, except in front of restaurants and clubs, which makes it unattractive and spoils the ambience of the street. But where should the cans go? There are also still many illegal vendors on the street, selling knickknacks. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen selling junk like plastic sunglasses to unsuspecting tourists. These people need to go. And of course, anyone selling food on the street needs to be banned. The restaurants who operate on the street are adamantly against street vendors, and for good reason. Food trucks have been banned from the street already.

We still have a problem with overcrowding, street blockage, people walking in the street and petty crime and drugs. The NOPD and its quality of life officers are limited in what they can do because they are woefully understaffed. But, last night there were two mounted police on Frenchmen. Unfortunately I saw them at around 7 p.m. (they need to be around after 10 p.m.). But I guess some early is better than none at all.

This is the good news: the brass band—the Young Fellaz Brass Band—that seemed to have caused a lot of problems with some of the local businesses, has proclaimed that the band is interested in being part of the street and that it will stop playing around 10 p.m. or 10:30 p.m. They’ve also promised not to play as loudly as they have been. Sam Jackson, the leader of the Young Fellaz, has made a sincere attempt to meet and talk to the other business owners on the street to assure them that the band is making an effort to be a part of the Frenchmen Street community of businesses.

The animosity towards the band from some of the businesses on the street seems to have been ameliorated somewhat. I think this is great news. Talking to each other and trying to get along with your neighbors is key to making Frenchmen Street a great destination for music and culture. It’s starting to happen. It just takes time and patience.

What I personally like about this is that it shows that the music venues, bars and restaurants on the street, by trying to work with the brass band–are interested in perpetuating musical culture that’s made Frenchmen Street what it is today. Having a brass band on Frenchmen—assuming that the band and the businesses are respectful of each others’ needs—is essential, in my opinion, to show that Frenchmen is not like other areas of the city that have banned musicians from playing. We need to support the culture that we’ve profited from. Giving young bands, like the Young Fellaz, the ability to hone their music and entertainment chops and giving them the opportunity to make some money playing music is a good thing. I’d rather have young kids playing in brass bands rather than getting in trouble on the street.

But we need more places for young musicians to play. Where can those places be? One idea I thought of was to create a “brass band alley” which would be a safe and accessible place to play—a place that can be developed as a destination to hear brass bands. When Donna’s and the Funky Butt were open on North Rampart Street, it was easy to go to places that regularly provided opportunities for young bands to play. Both of those clubs were closed, and when new operators tried to re-open the clubs, they were prevented by the “moratorium” that the city had placed on music on North Rampart Street (primarily through the actions of the residents and members of the VCPORA). That’s a sad situation. At this point there’s really no place for brass bands to play on a regular basis, especially the younger bands who are still learning the ropes.

It’s been suggested that brass bands set up on the Moonwalk, or in Woldenberg Park. But that’s not feasible, for a number of reasons. First, there are residents in the Pontalba Building who I’m sure would not appreciate hearing a brass band on the Moonwalk at night; during the day they’d be heard from St. Louis Cathedral through Jackson Square. The decibel level of the bands would definitely be an issue. Then, if the bands are moved to a place where there are relatively few people to hear them play, what’s the point? The brass bands also employ these budding musicians, give them the opportunity to make a few bucks. If there are no people, there won’t be any tips.

So we have a conundrum.

How can we give our young street musicians an opportunity to play in a place where they can be safe, where residents and/or businesses won’t have serious issues with the music they make, and where they can earn some money making music rather than possibly getting involved in some activities which are, shall we say, not so productive and that could possibly even be illegal?

I personally like the idea of letting the brass bands play in the flea market of the French Market. at he vendors there go home every evening, and the area is vacant, lighted, and covered. Adding some food trucks in that area could create a destination attraction. Of course, this idea needs development and support by the city, the French Market Corporation and the bands themselves.

It would add another night-time entertainment area if there could be some traffic flow from Frenchmen to that area of the flea market if there was music and some food there. Another obstacle is the presence of the Old U.S. Mint. Let’s face it: it’s poorly lit, and pretty forbidding (even during the day). It’s almost a “blockade” between Frenchmen Street and a “Brass Band Alley.” The Old Mint needs to be made a lot friendlier. How about adding some lighting on its Decatur Street and Barracks Street sides in the evening? How about adding some signage on the corner of Decatur and Esplanade as well as on the Barracks Street side?

The Old Mint has great programming during the day (the National Jazz Historical Park has regular programs about New Orleans music); there also events occasionally in the evening. Why are they not capitalizing more on this contribution to the musical offerings in this area? Why couldn’t the Old Mint also get involved in developing a place for brass band to play at night?

I would love to hear suggestions from our readers on what could be done to create a good place for brass bands to play. Please send me your suggestions and comments!






  • kmsoap

    I’m glad to hear the situation is improving with the Young Fellaz. They are truly an asset to the street. But we do need more space for more bands.
    The French Market is certainly a viable option, but it does have its limits. Due to the nature of brass bands and the acoustics of the Flea Market Shed, it could only accommodate one band, possibly a second down near the end of the produce shed. Otherwise, the overlap of sound would be unbearable for the people who live across the street. And there are people who live across the street, but they are regular working folks who never seem to get the same consideration or response as the Pontalba residents.
    There is also a vast, unused space in Washington Park. It’s also outside the Frenchmen Street district proper, and has its own obstacle in the form of the Christopher Inn, but if bands were directed towards Elysian or a band shell erected to direct sound down Frenchmen, it could certainly be a viable option.

  • Bob

    Putting bands in Washington park is a bad idea, it’s surrounded by residences.

    • kmsoap

      It has traditional residences on two sides, the Christopher Inn on the third and businesses on the opposite side of a divided street on the fourth. A directional band shell could accommodate a band, without putting excessive pressure on residents.
      It would have the added bonus of spurring much needed repairs to the park. The lights are broken, the 1860’s fence needs repair and there are drainage issues. Sometimes the only way to save historic assets is to repurpose them into something people will actually use today.

  • Steve

    I’d say quarantine the music. Kick the people out in the area and immediate surrounding areas. How could you possibly live in a music filled area and complain about the music being too “loud”? Serve these grumpy, close minded people imminent domain papers. They put a damper on one of the biggest and better characteristics the city is known for, great music. It’s ridiculous that music and music oriented businesses can’t thrive due to these people living in the same area and complaining, even banning together to get music venues banned from an entire street.

  • Margaret Phillips

    i’d suggest the corner between the tattoo shop and that new record store…? would alleviate the traffic issues, a bit! and there is no clubs on that side of the street , or business entrances…. but i’d like to suggest that the new business owners on the corner, may perhaps be overexaggerating a bit. i mean, ‘helping themselves’ to …. what does that mean? and it seems like those crowds the kids draw …. right outside of their door would be a welcome opportunity to draw in some customers… instead of complaining and segregating themselves from them …. they should focus on helping each other …. ie. – if they let the band members (9 or 10 of em?) use the bathroom , maybe…. they may even buy the guys a drink every now n then! i can assure u that if they were ‘part of the fun’…. the crowd would already have a step toward their door! they should embrace everything that comes with the corner they chose to build upon! if they moved in with the intention to run the kids off then…. that is what we should discuss not blaming their slow start on the fact that the kids bring too many people to the sidewalk in front of their door!

  • Rubens

    Rubens Taco Truck

  • Rubens

    Why continuo with this subject Brass Band. Their are locals, must of them juvenals and they are so polite and educate person they can get gigs in no place or club, because they just create problem with drugs, garbace and many other things. the city of Ne Orleans don’t care about this problem. They just care is about every 20th of the month collect our tax money. After all meeting and talking they still doing drugs in the corner, leaving all the garbace and everything continuo the same, because their attorney Mary Howell always instruct them to do because their are cultural part of the city. Who love Brass Band songs shoud bring them to play in front their houses.