Another public official, City Council member Jackie Clarkson, has been less popular in the music community of late, due to her decision to remove the benches in Jackson Square across from St. Louis Cathedral. Critics have rightly complained that the move is a blow to New Orleans' famed tradition of music performances in the square, as musicians now have no place to sit during breaks. It's also prohibitive for older musicians, who would previously often play while sitting on the benches. Clarkson has said the move is tourist-friendly by helping to clean up the square and preventing homeless persons from sleeping on the benches, but the lack of benches also prevents tourists from sitting and enjoying the sounds of Jackson Square legends like sousaphonist Tuba Fats and clarinetist Doreen Ketchens.
Now a "Jackson Square Sit-In" is planned to protest the benches' removal -- as well as related complaints about the harassment of street musicians and tapdancers. On Sunday, Sept. 8, at 1 p.m., concerned citizens are encouraged to bring folding chairs and signs encouraging the benches' return. ...
Another music-related public-policy issue that took root in New Orleans is now gaining national attention. After the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Attorney prosecuted New Orleans brothers Robert and Brian Brunet for promoting raves at the State Palace Theater -- saying by extension the Brunets were promoting the drug Ecstasy -- other lawmakers took notice. After the Brunets were ultimately fined $100,000 last year, severely curtailing the local rave scene, the door was opened for the R.A.V.E. (Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy) Act, a new bill sponsored by Sens. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). Civil rights activists are concerned that the new bill expands the federal "crack house" statute to make it easier for the federal government to fine and imprison concert promoters and venues if they fail to prevent customers from using or selling drugs at their events.
The bill comes up for a full Senate vote this month, and its opponents are urging those in opposition to the bill to write, fax or call their senator by Sept. 6. (A protest rave is scheduled on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 6, which should be an interesting sight.) Opposition forms and letters are available at www.emdef.org/s2633.
While the bill's focus is couched in terms of Ecstasy and raves, if passed, it could have a sweeping effect on concerts of all shapes, sizes, forms and musical styles. That's something to keep in mind as a packed concert and festival schedule is shaping up for autumn in New Orleans. Consider these diverse upcoming events:
The Southern Comfort Hurricane Festival takes place on Saturday, Sept. 21, at the Fly behind Audubon Zoo. The festival features Medeski, Martin, & Wood; Train; Soul Asylum; and Cowboy Mouth. (An additional headliner may still be announced.) The Allman Brothers play the Saenger Theatre on Wednesday, Sept. 25, while John Prine comes to the Orpheum Theatre on Friday, Sept. 27.
The Voodoo Music Festival rolls again on Saturday, Nov. 2, at Marconi Meadows in City Park. No Doubt has already been confirmed as a headliner, and the full Voodoo line-up will be announced on Sept. 6. Tour routing for the following acts suggest they'll be on the Voodoo bill: Counting Crows, the Blind Boys of Alabama featuring Clarence Fountain, Jack Johnson, Macy Gray, and Sum 41.
And for local music, it's going to be tough to top the Popeye's Chicken and Biscuits 30th Anniversary Festival, held Oct. 27 at Woldenberg Park. The festival begins at noon, is free to the public, and will feature Fats Domino, Dr. John, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Rockin' Dopsie Jr.