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Riffing On the Tradition: What's Your Story, Morning Glory? Community or commodity

Many of you took issue with my assertion that we musicians overestimate our value to the community. Of course, I'm not saying we're unimportant, but the numbers don't lie. Wages, incomes, sizes of paying audiences, they all belie a high level of regard. If you are following recent events surrounding permitting enforcement, you should be convinced how urgent it is that we define our stand.

Rising Tide's 7th annual conference is Saturday, Sept. 22, and it's an important one. We desperately need real dialogues like this that focus on the future of our beloved New Orleans. One discussion titled "Community, Or Commodity" will specifically address what cultural economy should really mean.

Think about all the clichés in our business, supported by personal experiences: Chick-singers who want to sit in with the band and only know "Summertime"; marginally edible finger sandwiches passing for hospitality in backstage green rooms like the one at Jazz Fest; guitarists who suddenly become inaudible when music is put in front of them; or, the one I saw this weekend at a small jazz festival in Japan, the cliché of the ex-patriot "jazzman" with marginal skills, who somehow convinces people, who are about as discerning as our tourists who revere buskers, that he's an authentic musician.

Another cliché I have been considering regarding discussions of music in New Orleans goes something like this:

"There should be no need to convince anyone that we should support music in New Orleans because it has historically been important."

It's a weak argument that has been appearing more frequently of late. In tones of increasing indignity, we use it to defend businesses who learn that they can't have a mayoral permit  for live entertainment. For example, the Clever wine bar in the American Can Company near my Bayou St. John apartment is a recent casualty. Clever falls in an area in which there is a "moratorium" on licensing because of the club's proximity to the proposed Lafitte Greenway. For a cool $1,000, apparently the zoning board will consider their case.

Nice, right? Unfortunately, in discussions about Clever wine bar, neighbors haven't talked about community identity, or the specific quality of the experience. Mostly they mention how convenient it is for them not to have to go downtown.

What if I said I think the Master Plan is actually a good thing? Wouldn't it be vastly simpler if we encouraged everyone to like the same things about New Orleans music? Wouldn't sustainability for the cultural workforce be easier to achieve if a smaller club scene forced us to thin the herd? Then, competition among the remaining musicians would drive quality and originality, and increased financial burden of the permitting process would pressure clubs to form stronger partnerships with the musicians they hire and build experiences with more meaning than providing some music to drink by.

No? There are some costs I'm not considering? Well, what are they? Let's get them in writing.

Many of you have asked how to support the music scene. It's simple: Engage this dialogue. Educate yourselves about their fantasies for the future and don't waste anybody's time with the equally fantastic Bohemian paradise where we play music wherever we want.

It's time to get real and decide what the new New Orleans looks like.

Evan Christopher, a noted member of the New Orleans music community, writes “Riffing on the Tradition” for NolaVie. 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]