The corner of Bourbon and Canal streets could hardly be considered a restful place. Folks don't flock to this "gateway" into the French Quarter looking for peace and quiet. Those who gather around the youthful To Be Continued Brass Band (TBC), which has been entertaining crowds at this spot since 2002, are there for the fun. It's a lucky tourist who stumbles upon the brassy ensemble because they have the opportunity to experience a piece of real-deal New Orleans culture. By many people's assessments, that's often difficult to find on this city's most famous boulevard.
It undoubtedly came as much of a surprise to the visitors enjoying the music as it did to TBC's band members when, just over a week ago, the New Orleans Police Department's Officer Ronald Jones stopped his patrol car on Bourbon and told the band that it had to shut down. They were informed verbally and in a written statement that the city was going to start enforcing an ordinance that prohibits street performances on Bourbon Street from Canal to St. Ann streets between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m.
As captured on a video that was posted on YouTube, the musicians were asked to sign their names on the document to confirm they had received the notice. A second ordinance cited on the paper forbids playing instruments on city-wide public rights of ways between 8 p.m. and 9 a.m. without a permit.
The Young Fellaz Brass Band was also shut down by the police while they were playing on the corner of Frenchmen and Chartres streets in the Faubourg Marigny.
Newly installed NOPD Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas has been reported saying that the sudden crackdown on street musicians is the result of complaints from French Quarter residents about noise and the lack of enforcement of the existing ordinances. Some of these complaints were aired at meetings held by NONPACC, the New Orleans Neighborhood Anti-Crime Council. The next gathering of that organization that will be focusing on French Quarter issues will be held at 6 p.m. July 8 at the Maison Dupuy Hotel, 1001 Toulouse Street.
Probably those who were the least surprised by the recent siege by the NOPD on the culture of the street are those active in the music community who have seen this and similar actions through the decades. There was a movement, mainly provoked by a group of French Quarter residents, to do away with musicians playing in and around Jackson Square. Incidentally, the gated area of Jackson Square remains off limit as a concert space except during the French Quarter Festival and a scattering of paid events.
Unnamed callers with a beef often spark the shutting down of a street event as happened on Carnival Day when the police responded by breaking up a gathering of Mardi Gras Indians at a traditional meeting place on Second and Dryades streets. Spontaneous second lines celebrating the life of a recently departed friend or member of the music community have also been halted by a single call to NOPD. North Rampart Street, which several years looked so hopeful as a thriving entertainment zone, deteriorates because a group of powerful French Quarterites don't want live music clubs — even small, jazz clubs — to exist there.
Canned music blasts from open doors of souvenir shops and bars up and down Bourbon Street. Yet complaints come in about the group of young, eager and very entertaining guys known as the To Be Continued Brass Band playing the music that was born in New Orleans and is heralded around the world. Could those sitting in the apartments who want the live music stopped really differentiate between the noise of the street and the joyful noise of live music?
One day at the corner of Bourbon and Canal, the legendary Allen Toussaint stood smiling among the crowd as he listened to this next generation of brass band musicians. He introduced himself to the guys in TBC and offered words of praise and encouragement. With those gestures, his wholehearted approval of the band's importance in carrying on the tradition was obvious.
Officer Jones has suggested that there might be a moratorium on enforcing the ordinances because "there's been a maelstrom of outpouring so I'm guessing there's going to be a temporary freeze..."
That could be a good first step. Attorney Mary Howell has, through the years, successfully represented street musicians fighting similar ordinances and the courts have found them unconstitutional. "These ordinances are deeply flawed," Howell says. "There are a lot of bad laws on the books."
Mayor Mitch Landrieu seems to have faith that a compromise on the issue can reached.
To read the rest of the article please go to The Louisiana Weekly article here ».
Geraldine Wyckoff is a Contributing Writer to The Louisiana Weekly.
Photos by Lisa Palumbo.