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Riffing On the Tradition: Pick Yourself Up

Congratulations to all of you for your successes over the 2012 festival season.

It’s all a bit of a blur as I try to recall just what happened over these last two weeks, but that doesn’t matter much. I have no intention of giving one of those “Jazz Fest Reports.”

It’s tempting, though, to brag about some of the night shows I heard. It would be even more fun to smugly dismiss what I intentionally avoided. For example, pictures in the newspaper are the closest I ever got to the crowds at the Acura Stage. I could brag about having heard great music from the Congo Square Stage, although I’d have to confess that I did so from City Park, it was so loud.

Seriously, I imagine, like me, you heard plenty of enthusiastic reports about great shows people “saw” on some stages. I’m guessing there were considerably fewer glowing reports about what people actually “heard.”

Maybe that’s why I generally think that blow-by-blow accounts of shows have little meaning. There’s also no sense in expending too much energy lamenting how things sounded. We should just relish the wonderful opportunity we were given, the visibility we had, and how many of our satisfied fans had a great festival experience. Besides, it’s not like anyone asks us what we, the musicians, think anyway.

That fact is something we need to change.

We keep proving over and over that people come to New Orleans for our music. Nobody can dispute that. Yet, we’re rarely at the table. For example, arguments about music volume levels are between venue owners and neighborhood groups, and we’re not in the conversation. Wages are framed as an issue between music contractors and our Musicians Union. Ever been to a meeting with our Union? I believe they want to help. But, at the last meeting I went to I had to pretend not to notice one of the representatives literally nodding off while I was speaking. Arts-related 501c3s, funding entities and politicians speak for us in dialogues about the cultural economy. And, judging by all the recycled stale images of scruffy street musicians or trumpets by piles of crawfish, clearly nobody’s asking us for marketing advice.

But: Gatekeepers and filters to help visitors find the music they’re looking for? Well, here’s an area where we can have some leverage.

Isn’t some of the success of HBO’s Tremé the portrayal of musicians as local celebrities? For better or worse, social networking and online marketing strategies are putting fans in direct contact with us, and they look to us frequently to know what’s happening. Frenchmen Street’s scene was created by us; the tourism machine simply appropriated it.

My point is, since musicians are recognized as an authority about our music scene, just imagine how we could shape our future if we organized and created some musician-driven forums to clarify our position on which venues are the best and why. Which advocacy groups deserve attention because of how they help our community grow? Imagine musicians hosting radio and television shows or writing peer-on-peer reviews to bestow praise on members of our community who are moving us forward as artists in the digital age.

With the momentum that we created over these last few weeks, let’s stay confident that the expectation of visitors looking for great music doesn’t have to be limited to the festival season.

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. All of his columns also are archived at Clarinet Road.com.

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]