MaC-Notes: It is time to draw a line in the mud, part one
At the last program in my recent series commemorating the centenary of the closing of the Storyville red-light district, a guest asked me to elaborate on between-song remarks about the recently proposed “Security Plan.” I had mentioned that attempts to regulate culture in New Orleans were as old as the culture itself, and that the use of scare tactics as a mechanism of control dates back to our city’s colonial roots. It’s true, whether one is discussing Congo Square in the 19th century, Storyville in the 20th, or VCE-1, the Vieux Carré Entertainment District, in the 21st.
Anyway, this guest, a Belgian music aficionado who visits annually, was confused by my mention of a key point in the plan wherein bars city-wide would be required to close their doors after 3 A.M. “…How could this affect the music?” he asked, “There’s no ‘real’ music that late.” I admitted that, personally, this rule wouldn’t affect me much, but I tried to point out other problems.
These measures have had scant input from businesses or the citizenry-at-large, the closed doors (as much as I might be content not to hear amplified musics competing with each other) is uncharacteristic of our 24-hour reputation, and sometimes, during Festival Season for example, there are late shows., I explained that the 3 A.M. rule is mainly to ease pressure on enforcement. The official statement from the Music & Culture Coalition of New Orleans (MaCCNO) sums up the main criticisms of the $39 million plan very well.
When I asked if he knew about MaCCNO, he acknowledged reading some of my articles, but wasn’t aware that open membership included people like him as well. I asked him if he would consider joining to protect the culture he loves so much. He agreed but added, “I do not understand why it takes so much effort to protect the culture. Everybody knows that the music is important, it’s why people come and the City makes money from it. So, why would they do anything to hurt this? I support the music I like, so I don’t need to go to bars on Bourbon Street. In the clubs, I meet more people like myself than people who live here, but I understand that in America people fight to have choices, even the option to not choose.”
He was drawing a parallel between our local and national politics. Belgium, you see, has compulsory voting, as opposed to here at home where over one-third of eligible voters don’t vote at all. Basically, his view was that if people in New Orleans truly valued their musical culture, they would actively support it more and the City’s leadership would have to value it more also.
There was more to our short conversation, including an interesting fact that in his city, when a noise complaint is judged to be erroneous, the complainer gets fined. But, mainly, my friend reminds us that there’s only one way to encourage our cultural traditions to evolve organically: Engage them. No, making your own counterfeit versions doesn’t count. Inversely, there’s only one way to hinder culture from uniting a community and celebrating it’s uniqueness: Take it for granted, or undermine it by devaluing it.
Entertainer and local legend Deacon John Moore gave a HuffPo journalist a tour of Tremé and talked about how it used to be a Black neighborhood that’s now unaffordable. It was a conversation like too many others that discuss, “who used to live here.” New Orleans is becoming defined by who is being priced out, excluded. Too often, discourse about gentrification is “locals” vs “newcomers,” but the fact is that, no matter how long one has identified with this place, non-participation is the biggest killer of culture.
People worldwide can learn a great deal from New Orleans and the multi-ethnic origins of our vibrant traditions, this is indisputable. The question is, will we teach them?
MaCCNO will be holding a meeting to discuss the “Security Plan” and potential action steps on Thursday February 9th, 5:30 P.M. at the Candlelight Lounge (925 N. Robertson St.). All are invited.
Evan Christopher is a noted member of the New Orleans music community and advocates for the cultural workforce. Click here for his performance schedule. He writes MAC-Notes for NolaVie. Email him with your comments about cultural issues, particularly in the music world, at firstname.lastname@example.org.