Riffing On the Tradition: Farewell Blues - A final riff.
This final article for Riffing on the Tradition took me three weeks to complete. At our last NolaVie editorial meeting, I confessed being ready for a change, but it’s been difficult to figure out how to end this. No, we haven’t run out of cultural workforce issues to write about. I’ve just exhausted my will to fight the status quo on their terms. Meaning that, as important as it has been to identify the challenges that musicians face, finding a solution by starting with the problem is a defensive stance to take. It gives our detractors the upper hand.
See, whereas solutions are most often created by individuals and groups making the most out of opportunities, most problems are created by opportunists taking advantage of situations regardless of how they affect others. Regardless of the dilemma, one person’s solution is often another’s problem; this is not just a semantic distinction (although I imagine most “opportunists” would prefer to think so).
For example, between out of town gigs, I usually come back to New Orleans. Now, if I were living here, benefiting from the currency in being based here without trying to improve things for my community, that would be opportunism. That's why I accepted the invitation to write this column and tried to teach a “New Orleans Music Ensemble” at UNO. It's the reason I go to MACCNO meetings when I can and joined the board of Sweet Home New Orleans. Like many of you, I enjoy never having to patronize businesses that aren’t local. It feels better.
Fighting to be considered in a particular way, however, inadvertently gives a sanction to the egotism of those who disparage our profession, simply because it frames their guiding principles as stronger somehow. I'm starting to wonder if their strategy is better. As you may have noticed at gigs at which people don't pay to hear you, it's easy for people to show a lack of consideration by simply ignoring us.
Here's another example. Watch the recent Alcohol Beverage Control Board hearing that fined St. Roch Tavern $10k and shuttered it for a few weeks (you can watch it here). Tell me if you can glean any evidence that city attorney Nolan Lambert is guided by a stance regarding culture in what I found to be a crass and belligerent attack on defendant Rob Waguespack.
And Waguespack, who comes to many of our MACCNO meetings, doesn’t have too much to say about music and culture either. Frankly, he seems to be unaware of what goes on at the business he manages. In my opinion, most venues fighting to stay open aren't doing so to support our music culture. That's just a collateral benefit.
Many came to speak at the over five-hour meeting and were not given the opportunity. Being present was the extent to which they could show their support for the neighborhood bar. The board, seemingly uninterested in hearing any specifics of that support, stated “We’re aware of your position.” Really? (For the record, here's MACCNO's link to media outlets who WILL listen to your voice.) For me, when “quality of life” trumps due process, I consider that “anti-culture.”
I’m also generally dissatisfied by our lack of progress in the 18 months since I began writing for NolaVie. For example, the next annual report by Sweet Home New Orleans, touted by several business leaders for the quality of its metrics and methodologies, will not show a significant increase in income levels for musicians, and there’s also little evidence of new music business infrastructure to brag about. Resistance to gentrification seems to be mostly about retaining our "charm," and it seems to me that many equate charm with “poor” (or at least "poor-looking").
I learned a great deal writing "Riffing on the Tradition." They're archived here, if anyone's interested. That dialogue is still ongoing in other ways, and I like to think that NolaVie has helped encourage it. MACCNO still meets on Wednesdays, and this Thursday, you can hear several experts discuss "Culture and Regulation" at a free event at the Old U.S. Mint
But, now I want, no, need to find exceptions to these pervasive norms and myths about the extent to which our city's identity revolves around its permissiveness. I’m looking for signs of true progress that inspire me. I want to start writing about people and groups who are just doing what feels right based on what they believe and are showing proper consideration to their neighbors, instead of blaming others. So, starting next week, I will have a new column that will simply be titled, “Who’s Steppin’ It Up.”
Next week, to kick it off, I will introduce a new partnership that could become a potential game-changer for cultural tourism right here in New Orleans with an experience that music aficionados have been longing for.
Evan Christopher is a noted member of the New Orleans music community and a founding member of Nola Art House Music. Click here for his performance schedule. He writes “Riffing on the Tradition” for NolaVie.
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 [email protected]