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!