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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Kermit Ruffins, music community, push back against City Hall enforcement tactics

Posted By on Wed, Sep 26, 2012 at 4:16 PM

EDITOR'S NOTE: After this story was posted, Gambit learned that the author took an active role at the meeting. Rather than take down the story without explanation, we chose to leave it online. It should be read as opinion, not as news.

Meeting at Kermits Speakeasy

Trumpet player and music icon Kermit Ruffins called a meeting today via his Facebook page to get music community and its supporters help him fight what is being called by critics ‘an attack on music and culture by City Hall’:

<<"Im calling a meeting on wednesday 26 at 12 noon at my club 1535 basin st. to discuss a plan of action to stop the city from taking live entertainment away from small clubs. For more info call me at 504-975-3955 between the hr. of 10am-noon any lawyers that can help please come by noon sharp!!!!!">> - Kermit Ruffins.

(More after the jump!)

About 100+ riled up supporters turned up to Ruffin’s club to brainstorm how to oppose the various actions the City has taken against music clubs, street musicians, and second line vendors. The most recent victims of the administration’s enforcement of ordinances that target arts and culture (some of them written in the early 1900‘s) is ‘Mimi’s in The Marigny’, a very popular club that hosts the widely beloved DJ Soul Sister’s Saturday night HUSTLE party amongst other weekly musical events, and a proposed ordinance that would necessitate permits for second line street vendors, many of whom are Black men pulling coolers filled with water, Gatorade and beers which they sell at the Sunday parades.

Scott Hutchinson, Mayor’s deputy of the Office of Cultural Economy, showed up to the meeting “listen” and field questions and accusations from a very angry crowd. He handled the blowback deftly, taking off his bowtie during the session as the pressure from the crowd’s ire rose, and said that his office would consider all suggestions posed by the audience. Attendees suggested a one-year moratorium on enforcement of ordinances affecting music clubs, street musicians and second line vendors that would allow the development of a working group to advise the mayor’s office on how to proceed more fairly and sensitively to the music and culture community. Hutchinson said he was in agreement with the idea and was going back to his office to work on it. At the suggestion of Ruffins, the group also tasked Hutchinson’s office with getting Mimi’s back open this week. Mimi was on hand and told the crowd that she has tried to be a good business owner, paying all her business taxes on time and checking the noise meter every 30 minutes to make sure she’s in compliance with the City’s sound ordinance.

Kermit Ruffins and meeting attendee

Folks in the audience also complained to Hutchinson that once the music club owner is targeted, there is no expedited process to help them get into compliance quickly so they aren’t losing money and laying off artist. Ruffins, who opened his Speakeasy on Basin Street earlier this year and just recently obtained a permit to reopen Ernie K-Does Mother-In-Law Lounge, agreed saying the process is too difficult and disorganized for club owners trying to comply with the law. “The process is one hurdle after another. One little wrong letter on an application and you gotta start all over again. I probably paid twice for my permit here (at the Speakeasy). My daughter went down first to file, made a few mistakes, and it caused us to have to start all over again.”

“When they shut down Mimi’s, I decided we had to do something. It’s hard to believe they would do something so serious. What about (giving her) a warning instead? Something like eight months so you can get your paperwork together? Because of some old law on the books or one neighbor complaining or some football event, they’re gonna shut her down?”

Ruffins said he purposely waited until he got his permit last week from the City to reopen The Mother-In-Law Lounge before coming out publicly and organizing this meeting. “I’m playing at clubs that might not have a permit. Musicians won’t be able to pay our bills they keep shutting these clubs down. Its tragic. We’re living from paycheck to paycheck. We need these places to stay open.”

Once Scott Hutchinson informally agreed to the suggestions on the moratorium and the creation of an expedited process to help music club owners without permits get in compliance, the meeting essentially disbanded. After which droves of attendees lined up to collect to-go containers filled with free grilled chicken quarters and red beans and rice cooked by the trumpeter himself. Cultural guardian Ruffins, decked out in a red chef’s jacket and blinging rosary, said this meeting was a big victory for the community. “I got exactly what I wanted to get out of this. It got us to get organized. Next stop, we gotta get attorneys on board.”

CORRECTION: MiMi's in The Marigny is not closed - they are in fact open and serving beverages/alcohol and food; the music had been stopped until further notice. Mimi the owner is working with the City to get the appropriate permits to re-establish music at the club.



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