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Friday, July 9, 2010

French Quarter residents, musicians gather to discuss live-music ordinance

Posted By on Fri, Jul 9, 2010 at 4:30 AM

Approximately 50 French Quarter business owners, residents and musicians met at the Maison Dupuy tonight for the monthly NOMPAC meeting of the NOPD's 8th District, a forum where citizens can raise issues or just ask questions of the local police. Tonight was the first NOMPAC meeting since June 16, around the time the 8th District police began enforcing a controversial, decades-old ordinance prohibiting street performance after 8 p.m., and that was what the crowd came to discuss. The To Be Continued Brass Band, which has emerged as the poster band for the street musicians, filed in silently and stood in the back of the room.

Not in attendance as the meeting began -- any member of the New Orleans City Council, which has promised to "review" the ordinance in coming weeks. District C councilperson Kristin Gisleson Palmer, who represents the French Quarter, had sent an aide, Mary Cunningham.

Before the meeting, several French Quarter residents and business owners spoke off the record about how they felt unfairly portrayed as enemies of New Orleans music, saying their objections to noise in the Quarter weren't necessarily aimed at street musicians (loud motorcycles and nightclubs with speakers on the street were two examples cited). Others felt the media hadn't afforded them the opportunity to speak on the issue, or painted them "as ogres," one woman said. Others felt uncomfortable going on the record, saying they'd received angry or threatening emails.

Roger Jones, the 8th District's quality of life officer, began the meeting by introducing Lt. Derek Frick and Sgt. Jonette Williams, who were there to meet the crowd and listen to concerns. Jones pointed out that he and his fellow officers were only enforcing existing ordinances and were not -- as he said one woman had accused him -- a "music Gestapo." He stressed that the laws were "going to apply to everyone," and pointed out that no musicians had been arrested, saying the police were "just relaying messages" -- but in the days following the initial furor, the city had decided to "stand down for a while" when it came to cracking down on street performers.

Real estate agent and building owner Samara Poche said that two tenants of one of her Marigny properties near Frenchmen Street had both given notice in recent days, saying the live music on Frenchmen kept them from sleeping and detracted from their quality of life. Several residents nodded their agreement. Another woman, clearly unhappy with the police's "stand down" approach, said, "I'd like to address this limbo-land we're going to be living in" until the ordinance was addressed, and concluded her remarks with a plea to the musicians: "Don't piss off your #1 audience." Another resident suggested moving live music to the riverfront and creating a live-music space on the river.

For their part, most of the musicians on hand said they were sympathetic to Quarter residents' complaints and wanted to work together. Peter Bennett, who has played glasses of water in the French Quarter for 16 years, said, "I've been through the pograms of the [Marc] Morial administration," saying the city had tried to quash live music in the Quarter in the 1990s and he was afraid it was happening again. "You never hear the compliments," he told the police. "You only hear the complaints." Others pointed out that street musicians could have an effect on reducing crime.

One thing everyone in the room seemed to agree on was that there were larger nuisances than street musicians, especially Bourbon Street nightclubs that blared canned music onto the streets. "These T-shirt shops blaring music into the middle of the street," said one homeowner. "That's just wrong."

The only friction of the night came when Jan Ramsey, publisher of the music magazine OffBeat, reminded the homeowners that the musicians weren't on the streets for a lark: "That's how these people make a living." One woman replied, "Fine. I'm going to invite them to practice in your office."

Deborah Cotton, one of the people supporting the TBC Brass Band, asked Cunningham how those in the room could keep up to date with the city's progress on the issue. "There's a working group being formed [to reexamine the ordinance]," Cunningham said. "I don't know who's on it and I don't know how they're forming it. I'm just the messenger."

Gambit asked if anyone in the room -- residents or musicians -- had been contacted by their councilmember to be on the "working group." Not one person in the room had.

At 7 p.m., an hour after the meeting began, Palmer (pictured left, with NOPD Lt. Derek Frick) came in, offering apologies. "The mayor has asked that we put together a working group to review this issue," she said, adding she had met with members of the TBC Brass Band and French Quarter homeowners separately about the issue, but had come to no conclusions as to how the city should proceed. She stressed that "we need to put our emotions in the back seat and have good decision-making. ... I didn't want to sit here and throw an ordinance out; I didn't want to create one quickly."

Asked how the working group was progressing, Palmer said, "Nothing has been finalized."

"It doesn't sound like it's been started."

"That's exactly right," Palmer said frankly.

When the meeting wrapped up at 7:45, the remainder of the crowd gave Palmer a round of applause, but half the crowd had already left, including all the members of the To Be Continued Brass Band.

We'll keep you posted on the formation, makeup and progress of the working group, once it's formed.

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