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.