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Stepping Forward 

Last week, New Orleans' second-line parading clubs made another tentative step down what has been a long and arduous post-Katrina road back to a regular parading schedule. In federal court on Wednesday morning, the city of New Orleans cut a last-minute deal with the Original Pigeontown Steppers to reduce the fee for their Easter second line to $2,413 from the $7,560 that the NOPD originally requested. The speedy agreement was surprising and maybe a little anticlimactic for the group and the legions of supporters who had gathered at 7 a.m. in Lafayette Square.

Before Katrina, second-line clubs paid the city a police escort fee of about $1200 to parade. Since the storm, the cost of the parading fees has increased by more than 300 percent, or in the case of the $7560 originally asked of the Pigeontown Steppers, more than 500 percent, expenses that the grassroots, neighborhood-based groups simply can't afford. Unless the fees stabilize soon at a number closer to the pre-Katrina price tag, many groups fear they won't be able to keep coming up with the money it takes to march the way they did before. Although donations from outside supporters have helped cover the bill for some parades up until now, reliance on the kindness of strangers is a dicey proposition. If costs don't come down, New Orleans second lines could become pricey, mobile rent parties, or simply stop rolling altogether.

The fees, which cover the overtime costs of up to 10 NOPD officers, were raised from the original $1,200 to $3,790 in response to shooting incidents at two second lines in January and March of 2006. In fall of 2006, several marching clubs joined together in filing a federal lawsuit against the city. They argued that the increased fees violated an ordinance that held that the groups couldn't be charged for the presence of more than ten police officers.

It's been a tough situation all around. Second lines often parade through neighborhoods with high crime statistics -- which in New Orleans, lately, seems to be almost everywhere -- and their freewheeling atmosphere means a lot can happen in the mix. Facing a lot of vocal criticism about increasing crime, the city's under a lot of pressure to keep people safe. Second-line representatives hold the line that of course they want police protection, but they just can't afford the bill.

With the prospect of the Easter parade going as planned after all, the second-line organizations are cautiously optimistic that they might be rolling towards a resolution after all. Katie Schwartzmann, the American Civil Liberties Union attorney representing the second lines, told The Times-Picayune that she thought the city's agreement to the reduced fee for the Pigeontown Steppers was a good sign, indicating that the city might be willing after all to work toward a mutually agreeable conclusion. Tamara Jackson, president of the New Orleans Second Line Task Force, said she looks forward to the Easter parade as a "celebration for all of us."

Joe Krown releases OLD FRIENDS

The title of New Orleans piano man Joe Krown's latest album, released last month, could refer to either the musicians he plays with or to the traditional New Orleans tunes he lovingly interprets. Krown keeps the album spare and clean, his well-worn keys lazily wrapping around classic piano numbers like the hunched, sleazy "Junker's Blues" or the iconic "Tipitina." Standards can always go one way or the other. There's always going to be someone whose name is stuck to it like peanut butter to jelly, and a new interpretation is never likely to outshine the definitive one. What Krown, a veteran of the fest and Frenchmen Street circuit, does here is, admirably, avoid the temptation of trying to write his name over one that's already in lights and instead embrace the comfort zone. His versions are laid-back, friendly and frayed at the edges, inhabiting songs like a well-worn spot on a favorite chair. The most jazzed-up track on the album is Krown's version of Benny Spellman's classic R&B number "Lipstick Traces," which features Brent Rose's tenor sax. The rest are relaxed and easygoing, as if the piano is simply saying, "I like this song. Don't you?" Brint Anderson's vocals are over-enunciated in the way that revival-band singing often is, as if the performance is a museum piece on display, but the instrumentals are, if not groundbreakingly rocking, enjoyably familiar pleasures.

click to enlarge Joe Krown has released a new CD, Old Friends.
  • Joe Krown has released a new CD, Old Friends.
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