Riffing On the Tradition: I've Heard That Song Before
Important members in our community are closely watching our defensive response to the zoning-related permit crackdowns. Oddly, whether they are advocates for culture fighting to keep our cultural life vibrant, or citizens with "NiMBY" attitudes opposing our "nuisance" activities, it seems they share a similar view of what the dialogue with our elected officials should look like. Ironically, the same people, who are uncomfortable with the influence of neighborhood groups with leaders who leverage their political pull, seem to want us to have a similarly structured organization.
I understand the advantages of having facilitators who can help communicate our goals in City Hall meetings, but I urge that we move away from the idea of appointing or electing "representatives" to do battle. First, musicians do not need more excuses to rely on others to make decisions that affect them. Second, City Hall doesn't need any more excuses to limit the dialogue to a select group of individuals.
From this side of the Atlantic, it looks like things have really moved forward because of the weekly meetings at Kermit Ruffin's Tremé Speakeasy. Individuals with expertise in specific areas are poised to lead free group discussions on topics such as how the city's zoning ordinances are codified, the evolution of laws pertaining to street music, and the enforcement methodologies for sound ordinances. Specific goals are forming regarding everything from flyering to changing existing restrictions on music, as are regular planning sessions for how we, the cultural workforce, should organize ourselves.
In short, it seems virtually impossible for anyone who wants to know what's happening not to know. There's no need to be left out of the movement. To receive emails with all pertinent information, simply provide a contact at one of the community meetings hosted by Kermit Ruffins. Furthermore, besides being involved on this level, here are other things to do that are not only very easy but crucial for a sustainable live music scene.
Most important is to keep spreading the word. This is the perfect reason to organize personal contacts. The people following who want you to succeed most also need to be following these dialogues. The clarion call should include reaching out to your colleagues, mentors and teachers. This is also the perfect opportunity for musicians and culture-bearers from different generations to connect and work together to determine our role in the "new" New Orleans.
I heard a concern that recent efforts might not be reaching more people because of access to technology. I think that's nonsense. One of my last concerts was with an 80-something musician who was sending me text messages with directions to the East London venue of our show. If musicians without email, Facebook, or Twitter aren't getting this information, that is our easily solved dilemma. We should be bringing them up to speed by communicating face-to-face or helping them use whatever technology is available to them. It's their revolution too.
Also, don't only think about demands for what we want. Telling our mayor what should or shouldn't be enforced really needs to start by having our own code of how we conduct our business. Think about how well your gigs are integrated with the space in which they take place. Musicians with more experience: It's time to step up and mentor our younger members in the community how to act professionally and responsibly.
And finally, it's time to actually be a part of the process to better understand it. This week, there are perfect opportunities for those who really want to see the zoning agenda in action. Head down to City Hall on Tuesday as both Siberia and the Backyard Ballroom deal with their permit situations. On Wednesday, make an effort to rally and get to Kermit's Speakeasy at 1535 Basin St.
Evan Christopher is a noted member of the New Orleans music community and a founding member of Nola Art House Music. He writes “Riffing on the Tradition” for NolaVie.