Last month, musician Kermit Ruffins announced a meeting at his Basin Street club Speakeasy to, as he put it, "discuss a plan of action to stop the city from taking live entertainment away from small clubs."
Since July, venues across town that have regularly hosted live music have been pulling their plugs as city employees from the Department of Revenue made a sweep, checking for live entertainment permits. High-profile venues like The Circle Bar, Siberia and Mimi's in the Marigny canceled live performances. Last month, The Circle Bar received a permit. Last week, following meetings with city officials, Siberia and Mimi's received temporary permits, allowing them to resume their schedules while working with the city on permanent solutions.
More than 100 people attended Ruffins' Sept. 26 meeting, which attempted to push City Hall to allow a grace period so venues can comply without losing revenue (or employees, or musicians, many of whom lost income from regular gigs).
Scott Hutcheson, Mayor Mitch Landrieu's advisor on the cultural economy, told the crowd, "Our office does three things: we permit, we protect and we enforce."
Gambit asked Hutcheson if City Planning Commission (CPC) staff would also be included in the conversation — along with Department of Revenue and Office of Safety and Permits staff. "They have to," Hutcheson said. While entertainment permits can be applied for and awarded, changes in zoning — which determines what properties can and cannot do — must first be approved by the CPC.
Landrieu, who as lieutenant governor was also in charge of the state's Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, moved quickly to respond to the criticism. A few hours after Ruffins' meeting, Landrieu issued a statement correcting reports that the city shuttered Mimi's (it did not — the bar never closed), adding, "I've instructed the city's enforcement agencies to enforce the law fairly and to take a customer-friendly approach. This means that we offer assistance in securing the appropriate permits to businesses that have been offering live music for years. In most cases, the city does not need to immediately issue summonses or administrative subpoenas, if a business owner agrees to work actively to secure the required permits."
At the meeting, Ruffins also proposed an Oct. 24 march on City Hall with members of the Rebirth Brass Band and the Marsalis family, among others. Until then, he said, he'll continue to hold weekly meetings at his club on Wednesdays at lunchtime. — ALEX WOODWARD