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Riffing On the Tradition: The Joint Is Jumpin' -- Working with our music venues

Like many of you, I constantly struggle with the contradictions of local music’s role as a cultural expression of, and for, the community versus a commodity of our hospitality industry. Last week, I began counting down to festival season and discussing ways we can boost our perceived value with Web-savvy fans. This week, I want to discuss how we can work more closely with the presenters of our city’s signature grooves and sounds.

First, let me clarify which places I’m NOT talking about. There are many venues for which I think there is, sadly, little hope for an honorable exchange or partnership based on mutual respect or trust. For those of you who feel you don't have a choice not to work in these places, or have rationalized away any unfair dealings, I hope you’ll take a closer look at the situation. Together, we can move forward, but as I said last week: Self-deprecating business practices that undermine your value aren’t the answer.

I think we can forget club owners who buy into the clichés propagated by our tourism marketing that “charm” equals poor and shoddy environments. Oh, sorry, am I not “getting the vibe” these venue-operators are going for? Actually, I understand it completely. They either believe that it’s cute to pretend to be run-down, or it’s an excuse to be cheap and lazy.

Either way, they’re not on our side.

Venue operators for whom the music is only a way to peddle booze and want musicians to be human jukeboxes? I think we can give up on them. DEFINITELY, let's wipe our hands of those who have gone so far as to dictate in disrespectful, condescending memos what music you can and can’t perform to sell their drinks.

Venues that can’t even be bothered to create a designated area or stage for you? Sigh. How they get you to work for them is beyond me. Please seriously reconsider your far too charitable donation to their businesses, and let’s leave them with nothing more than what they’re paying for.

Look, of course I know some of these venues could be great spaces. That makes it even MORE frustrating. Noticing that one of my favorite performance halls still hasn’t managed to get itself recognized on free listings such as WWOZ and Offbeat is why I started thinking about all this. But, with less than six weeks before the festival season, we can’t wait for them to change.

Those of you who are taking care of your end of things need to partner with the venues and develop a common vision for visitors who are coming specifically to New Orleans for the meaningful experiences that only live music integrated with its space can provide. Sound systems like a bad garage band’s from the 80’s? Lighting too dim to shoot decent photos? Piano-shaped objects so uncared for that self-respecting musicians would rather schlep in electric keyboards? Websites that presume the world knows how great the club is and don’t provide directions or at least a map?

The costs of fixing these things are not expenses that can’t be made up by a handful of successful shows.

Now, if you’re lucky enough to be working with a venue that has already given indications that it's raising the bar, take it even further. Rooms like the renovated Joy Theater, and newcomers to the scene like the Little Gem Saloon and the Freret Street Publiq House show great promise.

You can help these deserving spaces even further by coordinating your publicity efforts with theirs. Make sure your show is described properly on their site as well as your own and that your sites link to each other. Encourage them to make live streams or video-casts possible. Help ensure that their staff can answer questions about you and your program and that everyone is in agreement about logistics and technical details.

It's not being critical. This isn't about telling clubs how to do their business. This is about sharing and committing to common vision for our music and entertainment culture.

Lastly, don’t forget that we have local fans who may have expertise who would love to help. We can grow a healthier scene, but we can’t do it alone. Let’s get to work.

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 holiday 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]