An Open Letter To The New Orleans City Council

Dear members of the New Orleans City Council,

When I moved to New Orleans in the beginning of 2008, after leaving a job in Minneapolis and a life largely spent in and the around the Chicagoland area, it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with almost every aspect of this majestic city.  The cuisine is more delicious, the celebrations are more fascinating, and the people are more vibrant than any travel guide, magazine article or second-hand account prepared me for. But amidst the infinite aspects of life in New Orleans that agree with my constitution in a way few things ever have, it was the music scene that initially and repeatedly stole my heart and continues to do so on a daily basis.

While New Orleans is a renowned destination for live jazz and has gained recent national acclaim for her modern brass band tradition, the artists who caught my ear were not the living legends who haunt Frenchman Street or Preservation Hall. I was struck by the depth and diversity of the independent rock scene, a supportive community of young and talented musicians who transparently and self-sufficiently operate just below the greater entertainment and hospitality radar. Its ranks of natives are buoyed by the presence of two major universities (one with a extensive music business curriculum) that entice gifted performers and passionate consumers from all over the country to make New Orleans their home – a temporary choice that becomes more and more viable as a permanent decision as the independent rock scene continues down its exciting path towards a long-sought after and elusive critical mass.

The bars and venues that host these musicians are some of the most well-run and well-organized establishments in the city, from Tipitina’s or One Eyed Jacks to Siberia and Circle Bar.  For the benefit of the performers and audience alike, their proprietors are constantly investing in their spaces to ensure they are as comfortable, functional and secure as possible.  And even though I’m pushing 30 (and certainly look it), I’m subjected to more scrutiny when entering music events – especially those advertised as “18+” – than I am when I walk into any other bar or restaurant for any other reason.

I feel this music scene is as important as any other artistic or cultural movement in the city.  But it is one that thrives in measurable part on the contributions and patronage of those under the age of 21. Any ordinance that disallows bars and music venues from hosting 18+ shows – such as those recently proposed by Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson – will devastate this growing community.  The new rules would create a climate disproportionately hostile towards bars that regularly feature live music events and put scores of New Orleans residents at an economic and creative handicap, disenfranchising both those below the legal drinking age and those above it.

When the 18-, 19- and 20-year olds in question are the performers, permitting them upon or around premises that serve alcohol provides a nearly endless list of accessible venues in which they, as young artists, can hone their craft and earn an honest wage.  As patrons, the tickets they buy and cover charges they pay support musicians of all ages; and the time they spend in bars is undoubtedly more highly-structured and well-supervised than time spent engaged in some of the popular alternatives available to people of their age.

I have no doubt the proposed ordinances were introduced with the best intentions, but I believe such broad and indiscriminate laws have the potential to do more harm than good.  They could dismantle a music scene that offers a safe and enriching outlet for people of all ages and adds to the economic, artistic, and cultural fabric of this wonderful city.


Matthew Rosenthal


13 thoughts on “An Open Letter To The New Orleans City Council

  1. As somebody who grew up in New Orleans at a time when there were all-ages shows available to me, I found that watching music at these venues actually provided an ALTERNATIVE to the alcohol-focused teen scene that was around me. I’m extremely grateful to have had that and disappointed at how few options are available to teens.

    While you can’t count on teenagers to make rational adult decisions, their sense of culture is absolutely switched on and ready to be fed. If anything, I found that the new experiences and hormonal influences of my body allowed me to appreciate music in a way that I never got back… speaking as a DJ and record collector.

    What do you expect to occupy their lust for stimulation? Scrabble and trips to the movies? Teenagers are social animals and want more than that. New Orleans consistently turns its back on its biggest selling point, both in honoring music’s past and supporting its present (ban on flyers being a notable recent hinderance). If we can’t support it, can we at least try not to hold it back?

  2. Great article, extremely well-written and the personal perspectives really drive home the point. I agree that the intentions of this law are probably good, but venues and artists still have the choice to make their shows 21 and up if they so (and often do) choose. The 18-20 demographic is extremely key in the world of live music. While television stations and advertisers market towards a broader demographic (usually the coveted 18-34), many young bands need this demographic to survive. At the Back To School Bash with Big History back in January, the majority of the crowd was from Loyola and Tulane and many were probably 18-20, without this kind of support many local bands simply wouldn’t be able to get off the ground. Further, it is the bands that we see, follow, and obsess over during this post-high school/college time period that generally either (a) become the bands we follow for life or at the very least, (b) serve as a gateway to our ever-expanding world of music going forward. Teenagers are going to get there rocks off no matter what, and I agree with Hunter’s comment above that live concerts serve as an alternative in many cases to less-healthy and undoubtedly less culturally-stimulating activities. 

    This is an unnecessary and likely unsuccessful piece of legislation. Who are we kidding drawing the line between 18 and 21 (once again)? When you are 18, while still not old enough to drink, you are an adult. By not treating a 19 year old the same way as a 21 year old, lawmakers are simply perpetuating this new trend of the last decade that “25 is the new 20” or whatever “__ is the new __” has been posited and thus keeping young adults in a state of constant supervision and restriction for longer than is necessary. 18 year olds face adult consequences for their actions just like a 28 year old. If you treat a 19 year old like a kid and shut them out, they are going to go out in the streets and act like it, if you treat them like an adult, they might surprise you.

    Without making the worn-out “old enough to serve in the military” (ok, I did) argument again, to legally disallow a 20-year old kid from attending a rock concert, where in most cases there is security in place and discerning bartenders around, just doesn’t make a damn bit of sense. Venues are more than willing to check an i.d., draw an “X” on a kid’s wrist and allow them in to enjoy the show as a paying customer. It isn’t worth it to any reasonable venue operator to face potential liability or a temporary shutdown to get a $15 bar tab from a 19 year old wielding a fake i.d. At the most recent show I attended on Lundi Gras, I saw an underage kid get booted Tipitina’s around 2 a.m. for using a fake at a time when a considerable amount of law-bending was being allowed in the surrounding neighborhood and Rouse’s parking lot. The kid resisted, the bartender called security over and the underage concertgoer was booted. The arm of the city’s laws aren’t necessary to curb such activity and the venues themselves do as good a job, if not better, at policing.

  3. Presumably juice bars have fallen out of favor.  Has no one seen the opportunity to move the music culture out of alcohol-driven arenas (bars & festivals alike)?  Coffeehouses, dance halls, “clubs”… historically numerous avenues have been used to include those of non-drinking age.  Why does the music culture have to be associated with alcohol or other stimulants?  I know plenty of under 18 students whose love of music goes beyond just seeking social networking yet you, Matt, and so many others advocate only for the 18-20 year old crowd.

    Festivals are fine, though often overcrowded to the point of not being able to enjoy a specific band, but there needs to be regular primetime scheduling year-round – shows that start at 6:30 or 7:00 and end by 9 pm – to really draw in and develop the hordes of talented youth who are music oriented in this town.  Alcohol just isn’t a necessity; even some adults get by with minimal intake.

    And if you say your complaint’s about the ordinance, sorry, but driving down the non-parade side of St. Charles before the Muses parade this year and witnessing the ignorant and rude behavior of 18-20 year olds stopping my vehicle multiple times, pounding on it with beers in hand, jeering and what all, is proof enough to this adult that emotional maturity is lacking with a large contingent of the group you advocate for.  Most laws are written to contain those without much common sense, you must realize, so the best the grownups (whether 24 or 54 or 14 in chronological age) can do is work out a platform to minimize the damage to the rest of us.  Which is why drinking & driving have that wedge thrust between them, Wesley:  yes, those over 21 can make that error in judgment, but probability theory shows more 18 to 20 year olds do.  And of the two needs, the need is greater for teens to drive than to drink.  

  4. The proposed idea is a perfect example of “devolution”, going in the exact opposite direction of where this should be. As musicians, we shouldn’t just be fighting to keep the age at 18, but if anything, to lower it, at least for music venues such as Tipitina’s and the House of Blues. I realize what I’m saying is mad next to councilwoman Clarkson, but too many reasonable points have been made on this topic to go unresolved. Artists such as Trombone Shorty, the Marsalis family, and Lil Wayne were performing in these very venues at an early age. As the age-old golden rule would be, “Sex, drugs, and rock n roll.”

     In the early 1980’s, the New Orleans music scene saw this with it’s late punk movement, with young local acts such as The Cold, The Normals, and Sexdog being popular among youth. Clubs such as Jimmy’s, Jed’s, and Ole Man Rivers held shows with these bands, next to bands such as The Clash, The Ramones, The Stray Cats, Squeeze, the Cramps, and hundreds of hundreds of other popular alternative artists of the time. From the stories I’ve heard, I know that the fan base was both musicians and fans. These venues were 18+ venues, but that stopped nobody from the raging hormones, circle knife fights, alcohol, and all the drugs of the day. The violence and illegal activity frequently occurring by minors caused many legal issues in each of these clubs for years. My brother was part of the alternative music scene in the early 2000’s, and always attended a then mostly metal venue, the Cypress Grove, now known as the Cypress, a premier All Ages music venue. In both its career as The Cypress Grove and the High Grounds, it was a venue notorious for its shows to be “hardcore,” with drugs to be done by all outside of the venue. As I have been told by musician friends my age, The High Grounds was very negligent and treated the artists horribly. Cops frequented shows at the Cypress Grove and the High Grounds, as drugs were truly prominent among the youth.

    My name is Hunter Burgamy, and I hope to be part of the future music scene of New Orleans. I’m already beginning to be a part of it, touching several different scenes in the city, between jazz, blues, rock, and others. I attend Nocca, Haynes Academy, and am a Junior in High School, at 16 years old. I have been performing in clubs since I was 13, the same age as Kenny Wayne Shepard was. I go to the Tipitina’s Internship on Monday nights after both school and nocca with Donald Harrison. I go there as well for a recording and producing class on Tuesday’s. On Saturday’s I attend both the Preservation Hall Jr Jazz and Heritage band on banjo. Afterwards I head to Dillard University and study guitar there with a Jazz and Heritage program. 

    It is my belief that venues should be accessible to not only young musicians, but to young music lovers in general. I am outraged that Tipitina’s, the most well respected venue in the city, does not host all ages shows as such. Tomorrow, I’ll miss Heart at the House of Blues, and Saturday night I will miss Mr. Thomas Dolby, 80’s superstar, who has been on a hiatus for the past 15 years. I am not pleased with this negligence. 

    The only venues that host these kinds of artists are Festivals, Mahalia Jackson, The New Orleans Arena, and The UNO Lakefront Arena. I am done with missing countless favorite artists over the YEARS: Robin Trower, Tesla, The Misfits, Robert Randolph, The Wailers, The Dropkick Murphy’s, Bootsy Collins, George Clinton, and hundreds of others. We need to rise up for this just as we are with 21+, and with the noise control on Frenchman.

    Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution.

    Of course this is all easily said. But it needs to be done and it can. Major venues all over the country host All Ages shows, the best and closest being Beau Rivage and Hard Rock in Biloxi. The Hard Rock Biloxi is an excellent point of how it can work. The shows are 18+ but All Ages is permitted with adult accompaniment over the age of 30. I don’t care if my parents are with me or not. I’m fine with it. I want to see the music I won’t be able to see when I turn 18, or even 21! Jimi Hendrix is dead and I have friends who’ve seen him in their 60’s now. I don’t want to wake up and see Robin Trower is dead, and be upset and reminisce on how I never got to see him due to these shows.

    Drugs and alcohol use by minors is a major dilemma here. It may be funny to hear from a 16 year old depending on who you are, but I am very anti-drug and anti-alcohol. I can’t stand the taste of alcohol and have never smoked. I have dozens of friends my age who do these things, referring back to the golden rule of “Sex, drugs, and rock n roll.” But those gems of young musicians who want to see music by the performers don’t need this. Houma-bred vocalist and pianist Jenna Guidry (13years old) gave me her opinion on this herself. She comes to NOLA 3 times a week from Houma to study music at NOCCA and other programs, and is one of the sweetest and most talented young girls you’ll ever meet. During a rehearsal, we shared thoughts on this topic, and she had happened to agree with the terms of Hard Rock Biloxi, as well as envisioning both All Ages shows, but also a parental agreement with said venues. To sell alcohol to people with ID’s only, and a possible wristband system for minors. This girl, at 13, may have to wait 7 and a half more years to see her favorite artists in the city, and I feel it at 16 as well. And for a musician, that’s the worst form of injustice, to keep us away from what we love. 

    It can be done. I don’t have contact information, but somebody, please, reach out and help me and countless others for this justice. Some people understand. The musicians of New Orleans understand. Cafe Negril, Deckbar, Maison, Snug Harbor, BMC, Vaso, Mojito’s, Three Muses all understand. Artists like Sam Price, Kid Chocolate, John Michael Bradford, the Marsalis Family, Stanton Moore, CJ Solomon, Beth Patterson, John Lisi, Derek Douget, Calvin Johnson, Trombone Shorty, Glen David Andrews, Shamarr Allen, and countless others understand. 

    I’m not a person to advocate drugs, fake ID’s, alcohol, smoking, and violence to minors such as myself and my friends, and I dislike these things in general as well. 

    I want music. I want a good time, times and shows to remember, not forget by pouring alcohol down my system. I will fight for this. Others will as well. 

    We set the rules. We can change this.
    For the future of music. For the futures of John Michael Bradford and the Vibe, NOCCA class of 2012, Jenna Guidry, myself, The Clements twins, the Baby Boyz brass band, The Preservation Hall Jr Jazz Band, the Dillard Jazz Ensemble,  and the future existence of music in every genre in this city, just as it’s been for decades. 

    Musical freedom 2012. 
    It begins now. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s