The New Orleans City Council is convening a "working group" of French Quarter residents, street musicians and others in an attempt to strike a compromise, if not a rewrite of current municipal code, according to council president Arnie Fielkow.
"I -- like all the other councilmembers -- have been receiving dozens of emails from across the country," Fielkow said. "The French Quarter is in Councilwoman [Kristin Gisleson] Palmer's district, and I understand she is pulling together a working group of residents and musicians to review a potential revision to that ordinance that would make it more palatable to everyone involved."
Why is this ordinance -- which has been on the books for decades -- being enforced right now?
"I don't know. I wasn't apprised by the police," Fielkow said. "I wasn't aware the police were aggressively enforcing it till we started to get the emails."
NOPD officials have been giving warning letters to musicians citing two laws: one prohibiting street performance after 8 p.m., the other keeping public rights-of-way clear at the same hour. (The noise law includes several exceptions, including power tools and lawn mowers, which are allowed until 10 p.m.)
"I think there's a reasonable solution," Fielkow added. "There's been some discussion about revising the law to reflect different hours for different areas of French Quarter, and maybe from a seasonable standpoint as well. We have to protect our cultural history."
Fielkow said he'd heard of, but not seen, the Facebook page "Don't Stop the Music. Let New Orleans Street Musicians Play!," which was formed five days ago and currently has 11,464 members many of whom are visitors or potential visitors in support of New Orleans music. Could this be a public relations disaster for the city?
"I can't comment on that," Fielkow said, "but I think we need to be very open-minded on this particular law. New Orleans is a city of great music, and part of the ambiance of the French Quarter is live music."
We finished the conversation with a question posed by Joseph Maize, trombonist with the To Be Continued Brass Band, which was one of the first to get cited under the newly enforced ordinance. Standing at the band's usual corner at Bourbon and Canal streets last week, Maize said:
You want to take me for doing the right thing, take me. I'm from the St. Bernard projects. All the people I know doing the wrong thing, you all don't take them, so why come take me? It makes me feel frustrated, like: What is your reason for doing this?
Fielkow paused and asked for the question to be repeated. Then he spoke carefully.
"For better or worse, we have a law on the books," he said, "and I think we should be revisiting that law while trying to honor that law and honor the tradition of great live music. The French Quarter has to remain a great place to live and to visit and to listen to music."