Riffing On the Tradition: The Quiet Before the Storm
Earlier this week, I reached out to many of you to tell me about your French Quarter Fest experience. I appreciate the feedback very much. I wish I'd heard from more people, but I know how busy everyone is. Like many of you, I too have been very busy getting ready for Jazz Fest.
For the couple of dozen of you who did give very thoughtful, and often humorous, responses, I can't say I necessarily found any of your war stories terribly surprising. But that wasn't really the point of the dialogue I thought needed to be started.
I wasn't just looking for horrific tales of how you creatively navigated getting to your stages, how you diplomatically dealt with the sound crews, how you utilized that single parking pass for your entire band. Of course, I was actually hopeful that you all would have had a much easier time, but admittedly, my optimism wasn't high. Your assessments, ranging from unfortunate to disastrous, are noted and I respect your candor.
In the end, be proud that thousands of music fans and several hundred of you (all much braver than me) helped create a positive festival experience. I know you never got the public thank-you for your service that you deserved, but I applaud you all. Your honorarium not withstanding, I hope you had some real signs of appreciation over the course of the weekend.
... Meanwhile, did you read about the proposed downtown tax increases? These taxes are expected to raise more than $10 million for the advertising campaigns of the New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corporation and the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, who work to attract leisure tourism and conventions respectively. Whom among us, except those who might participate in the next advertising campaigns, will benefit?
... How about the battle over sound ordinances between French Quarter businesses and resident groups? I never even knew about the Bourbon Business Alliance or the group called French Quarter Citizens, did you? ... It reminds me of parents fighting about something their kid did while he's standing in the room.
... A funny thing happened to me Thursday. I showed up for an event near the 400 block of Rampart, where a local politician was scheduled to honor the Rebirth Brass Band for its Grammy win. For those of you who don't know, this is the block that contains three barely-standing historic landmarks, including the site of the Eagle Saloon, where Buddy Bolden performed. The event didn't take place because of "scheduling conflicts." I'm glad it didn't. How ironic would it have been to recognize the achievements of local musicians on the site of the only remaining dilapidated buildings connected to the music's inception? Have you been over there recently? The whole area is in shambles. Have you noticed, the only ones to make recent use of those buildings in the last few years have been graffiti-makers?
What do these musings tell us? They indicate that we have some work to do if we want to be taken seriously. If your FQF experience didn't make it clear enough, these other stories should illustrate that if we don't put our heads together and show some semblance of real organization, we will never get invited to the table to affect positive change in our industry. Progress is something that should happen WITH us and BECAUSE of us, not TO us.
Keep preparing for JazzFest, but don't let it eclipse all else. Let's keep sharing ideas about how to make sure we're respected more tangibly in the future.
Evan Christopher is a noted member of the New Orleans music community and a founding member of NOLA Art House Music. Click here for information on his events during the Festival Season. He writes “Riffing on the Tradition” for NolaVie. All of his columns also are archived at Clarinet Road.