The Battle of New Orleans

NIMBYs and newcomers threaten to regulate the Big Easy's music into extinction.

(Page 2 of 3)

In neighboring Tremé, only two clubs now feature nightly live music. In a 2011 op-ed piece responding to the closure of Donna's, OffBeat editor Jan Ramsey, who has documented the city's cultural ebbs and flows for decades, asked: "What's better for the city: a street where there's no traffic, lots of crime, a derelict park, no music and few retail outlets just so a few people won't have their sleep disturbed? Or a vibrant cultural and entertainment district that could-with the proper enforcement and development-become another jewel of the city?"

Culture or Noise?

"Proper enforcement" is hard to come by in a city with a long history of disorder and corruption. In the summer of 2012, as part of the run-up to the popular Essence Fest, the police conducted a series of city-wide sweeps, checking the licenses and permits of 100 businesses. Around 40 were found to have licensing or zoning violations, among them some of the most popular music venues in town.

One of the businesses, the Circle Bar, could not produce a permit for live music, and it was told to cease hosting bands immediately. Fortunately, it had an escape hatch: If an establishment can prove it has been operating openly in defiance of the law for five years, it can be grandfathered. So Circle Bar owner Dave Clements hosted a "notary party" where 60 musicians signed affidavits stating they had played there. Armed with the affidavits, more than a decade's worth of press clippings, and photos of the well-known chalkboard that the club puts on the street every day to announce that night's performer, Clements was able to obtain a permit.

The police sweep prompted a backlash from musicians and arts lovers, including a series of community meetings at trumpeter Kermit Ruffins' club, Kermit Ruffins Speakeasy. Councilwoman Stacey Head spearheaded an effort to streamline the permitting process, and the Landrieu administration softened its tone. "I've instructed the City's enforcement agencies to enforce the law fairly and to take a customer-friendly approach," Landrieu said in a statement.

The city has simplified the permitting process since then, a sign that neighborhood associations won't automatically be given the upper hand. But plenty of questions still surround who is and who is not granted the highly coveted mayoralty permits, which allow for live entertainment in commercial/residential districts.

A large bar called Bamboula came to Frenchman Street in November 2013, much to the dismay of neighborhood businesses, which saw it as an unwelcome dash of Bourbon Street into what had been the locals' favorite non-tourist music street. Meanwhile, many would-be owners of small clubs and restaurants ended up walking away, overwhelmed by bureaucratic red tape and public hearings with neighborhood groups.

Permits and licenses are only part of the problem. The city's sporadically enforced noise ordinance has become a frequent catalyst for battles between clubs and neighborhood associations. While the Circle Bar was able to bring musicians back onstage within a week, the same cannot be said of Mimi's in the Marigny, another establishment found to be lacking a live music permit during the 2012 summer sweep.

While Mimi's was able to resume live music with a temporary mayoralty permit in September 2012, a protracted legal dispute has meant an on-again, off-again schedule. Despite owner Mimi Dykes' efforts to mitigate noise since opening the club in 2005-including monitoring decibel levels, installing sound bafflers to reduce noise escaping to the street, and ending performances earlier-a handful of neighbors have filed numerous noise complaints. These complaints have come largely from newcomers to the neighborhood.

Lorelei Cropley, for example, moved into Marigny in 2010 after checking zoning laws and confirming that live music was not allowed there. (She hasn't said whether she noticed the clubs already open on the street.) In April 2013, Cropley and others filed a lawsuit against Mimi's that not only complained of window-rattling late-night dance parties but questioned whether the club was permitted to host music at all.

A judge ordered Mimi's to immediately cease hosting music. On September 6, a mayoralty permit gave Mimi's a green light to begin booking concerts again. The club's opponents are now plotting their next move; Cropley has vowed to take her fight against Mimi's all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.

Such efforts have the support of Hear the Music, Stop the Noise, an organization that has been one of the lead actors in the fight against Mimi's and other loud New Orleans music venues. Led by the prominent environmental attorney Stuart Smith-by no means a recent arrival-the group seeks "to preserve the musical culture of New Orleans by combating the rampant noise pollution that threatens the wellness of musicians, citizens and tourists alike, and jeopardizes the historic architecture of [the] city."

In practice, the line between "noise pollution" and "musical culture" isn't very easily drawn. Many musicians and music lovers see the increasingly frequent noise complaints as an assault on New Orleans culture and a threat to its long-term survival. In the words of Bru Bruser, whose band lost a steady weekly gig when neighbor complaints kept the club it had played for two years from getting a music permit, "People wanna move to New Orleans's hip neighborhoods, but it's insane that they aren't even hip enough to realize there is live music there. So they show up and throw a fit, when they could have just lived somewhere else."

Signs and Parades

The city government has tried to play the role of peacemaker in some of these disputes, urging mediation between businesses and neighbors. It even ordered an exhaustive study by Oxford Acoustics on the city's "soundscape."

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  • Restoras||

    In 1814 we took a little trip
    Along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip.
    We took a little bacon and we took a little beans
    And we caught the bloody British in the town of New Orleans.

  • Mainer2||

    In nineteen and fifty-nine we took a little hike
    With our scout master down to Lake Oneeganite
    We took a little pizza and we took some saurkrauts
    And we marched along together till we heard the girl scouts

    We're the boys from Camp Kookamonga
    Our mothers sent us here for to study nature's ways
    We learned to make sparks by rubbing sticks together
    But if we catch the girls then we'll set the woods ablaze

  • Restoras||

    A fine rendition, sir!

  • stephn289||

    Start earning with Google. Just work for few hours and have more time with friends and family. I earn up to $500 per week. Its actually the nicest job Ive had. Linked Here www.CapitalPosts.com

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    "New Orleans Convention and Visitor's Bureau Boston Consulting Group Master Plan"

    You can tell it's a great idea by the long bureaucratic name. And the use of the phrase "Master Plan."

  • sarcasmic||

    I like Mike D's master plan myself.

  • DEATFBIRSECIA||

    All I can say is this Chris fellow really has some big Kjorness!

  • l0b0t||

    Back when I lived in the Irish Channel/Lower Garden, we would always throw a keg and a few sleeves of cups into a shopping cart and head to St. Charles to sell $2.00 beers at the parades. Also, Frenchmen St. always had a guy selling NO2 balloons out of his van ($5 each or 3 for $10). These cursed carpet-baggers are ruining one of the best cities in the nation.

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    You know which other carpetbagger caused harm?

  • Swiss Servator, mehr Sprüngli||

    Hillary Clinton?

  • John||

    Jazz is a hundred years old. I love New Orleans Jazz as much as anyone. And really, New Orleans is the one place in the world you can consistently hear the good stuff.

    That said, what do you want New Orleans to be? Do you want it to have a real music scene where real artists go to create art? Or do you want it to be a museum where nothing ever changes and the place becomes a sort of Disney Land for adults who like the past?

  • Citizen Nothing||

    Just like Paris and Athens!

  • Kakistocrat||

    I think the point is that New Orleans is being turned into a Disney World by the new arrivals. They try and curate the culture. This can stay, it's charming! But that is too loud! It has to go! They try to make the city safe and non-offensive. Boring. And that will kill the cultural evolution. When we (nola residents) say we don't want the city to change, we mean we want to retain the reckless and permissive freedoms that has defined her...we don't want to tame her.

  • Raston Bot||

    Sounds like the damage is done. Fuck nawlins.

  • Loki||

    Landrieu set out to bring order

    So you're saying he offered the world ORDER?

  • sarcasmic||

    You're not free unless you have asked permission and been given orders.

  • ||

    What kind of asshole moves to New Orleans and then complains that the music is too loud? People really are the worst.

    I was going to take a trip there next month but then a bunch of things broke in my house and I think I can't afford it now.

  • John||

    Good point Max. They probably also complained about all of the drinking and rich food.

  • ||

    And it's just so hot! Can't someone do something?

  • Raston Bot||

    They can't be fervent worshipers of the AGW faith else they would not have moved to ground zero.

  • R C Dean||

    I would bet that the vast majority of AGW true believers live where their precious models predict catastrophic flooding. Your urban proggies are the footsoldiers of AGW, and mostly live on the coasts, after all.

  • Kakistocrat||

    Evidently they did complain. 8 years ago there wasn't even a vegan friendly section on any of the restaurant menus. You could order just the green beans, but you'd be assured they were simmered with bacon. Now, two Whole Food stores and a Naked Pizza later, we got several of 'em. And Juice bars too!

    There is currently also a war on the infamous go-cups. Apparently these people move into a neighborhood with 5 or 6 bars in 5 block area and complain that people are walking home late and buzzed and talking too loud on the street and sometimes throwing their cup on the ground. So new restaurants/bars where I reside have to agree not to offer go-cups to get there alcohol permits. The old bars still can though. You can also still smoke in most bars if you wish...at least for now.

  • Mainer2||

    What kind of asshole moves to New Orleans and then complains that the music is too loud?

    Same kind of Massholes moving to New Hampshire, then griping about the gun laws...and voting for liberal democrats.

  • John||

    How is the 911 coming Mainer?

  • Mainer2||

    In primer, just about ready for paint. I'm upgrading the original 15 inch rims to later 16 inch, 8 inch wide in the rear, so he had to massage the fender flares in the back.

    Not sure I told you, but the car was/is green, like many 1970's era cars, a bold primary color. I'm keeping it green, losing all the little chrome trim bits from the bumpers and rocker panels, to be replace by paint. My creative wife suggested instead of plain black stripes, we do the trim in a deep cobalt blue to set off the green.

    The Fuchs wheels will also be done in cobalt blue in the "windows" as they call it.

    Should be very striking when done, and I'm getting a little excited to get her back on the road.

    Not as excited as you were last week with your new purchase, of course.

  • John||

    Is it a darker green? I think green is a good color on a 911 and a lot of other cars.

    So you are at paint, I assume the mechanics are sorted then? Just how fast are those old suckers? I have driven a 993 but never driven an actual old school 911. Cars were generally slower in the 70s, though I am sure 911s were never dogs.

  • Mainer2||

    Do a google search on Porsche 911 in Viper Green, and you'll get the idea...it's fairly light and bright, not at all like a British Racing Green. It's a very 1970's color, and I was never tempted to change it.

    The motor is actually sitting at another shop; it needs a few upgrades. Problem is, you can't run the engine outside the car due to the external oil tank and some other factors. So we won't Really know if everything is good until we put the whole car back together.

    Performance wise, mine is the base 911T (T=Touring, not Targa) with a mere 140 hp. Zero to 60 is probably around 10 seconds, so I won't win any drag races with a Honda Civic. OTOH, it's so lively and responsive. If you are going 50 mph and roll on the power in 3rd gear, it just pulls all the way to redline with no hesitation, and the sound alone is a mini-orgasm.

    If I had a do over, I would probably go for a 911S with 210 HP...That would, I suspect, keep up with almost any modern car, short of a 'vEtte or new 911 or similar.

  • John||

    I saw an RS on one of the car shows and it was officially listed as going 0-60 in 5.1 seconds. That is exactly what my 02 C4S is rated at. Since Porsche is always conservative in their performance claims, both cars actually do it in around. 4.6 seconds.

    Of course an RS if you can find one costs north of 100K. I would assume that an S would be slower but not that much slower.

    Considering that your car probably doesn't have power steering and may or may not have disk breaks, it doesn't matter how fast it is. My old Mustang probably does zero to 60 in nine or ten seconds. But it has drum breaks and manual steering. Driving it is totally different than driving a new car. The thing is just great. The car is alive in a way new cars are not. On a good road in perfect weather, I would rather drive it than either of my modern cars, including the 911. You don't have to drive it fast to have a great time.

  • Mainer2||

    I forgot about the old mustang. I think drum brakes would be a line I wouldn't want to cross. The 911 has a simple manual rack and pinion steering and four wheel disks. It really is a nice way to bridge the divide between old school and a palatable modern drive.

  • John||

    Drum breaks are easy Mainer. You just have to make sure they are properly adjusted and bled. Right now mine need bled and the peddle goes down a bit farther than I like before the breaks kick in. But the car stops fine. You just have to pay attention and understand that there is nice steady breaking and lock them up and nothing in between.

    The Mustang has terrible front suspension geometry. The first thing Carol Shelby did when Ford asked hm to build the 350GT was rebuild the front end. I would much rather have your 911 on any curvy road. But on a big open American highway, the Mustang is awesome.

  • Mainer2||

    Pedant alert: is it really NIMBYism if the the thing you don't like was already there before you moved in ?

  • John||

    No it is not. It is called moving to the nuisance.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    And it isn't limited to New Orleans by any means. My Mother In Law owns a shop in New Hope PA, and I've worked in the town on and off. The battles between bars that have been there longer than I remember and residents who bought their homes last year are perpetual. I've been knocking around from time to time New Hope since my Father's 1968 sabbatical at the Princeton Institute For Advanced Study. It has NEVER been quiet. If you like quiet, DON'T MOVE THERE.

  • Mainer2||

    In outer suburbia of Chicago, people in newly developed subdivisions would complain, about the smell of manure from the farmland next door, OR complain about the loss of said farmland to another subdivision.

  • Swiss Servator, mehr Sprüngli||

    So they hurriedly push for and vote for the Kane County Forest Preserve District to increase taxes and buy moar landz.... gah.

  • Mainer2||

    Pull up that drawbridge !

  • Kakistocrat||

    I am resident of Bywater in New Orleans. The changes that have happened here over the past five years are astonishing and frightening for good and bad. Beautiful old historical homes have been renovated. My home value has exploded. The streets are nicer. The part-time prostitute/pt drug dealer that lived across from me and whose clientele stole two cars from me are long gone. Her loud music and drug hazed screaming at some phantom in the empty house next to her are now a distant memory. We got along but I was secretly glad when she was finally evicted. But that rent house was bought, fixed up, and the new tenants are hip, quiet, banal, and utterly cliche', including skinny jeans and Obama bumper stickers. Now I pine for my old neighbor. I moved to New Orleans because of its corrupt chaotic nature. Coming Austin TX, New Orleans was a refreshingly sin filled, free, filthy, hot, soupy mass of an anarchic music and cultural scene that blew me away. I learned to love the city corruption and violence. I told myself that these elements are what keeps those Austin/SF/NYC types from coming in and setting up Hiptopia Zone 9. I underestimated them. It's still my favorite US city by far, yet I fear in 50-60 years, this will be the direct opposite of the Chocolate City. It will be 90% white. It will be filled with snipey, intolerable, pajama boys who will still insultingly claim the very legacy they slaughtered. Maybe we can fight it. I still have hope.

  • TheZenomeProject||

    The fundamental irony of the progressive is that they claim to despise gentrification and what it stands for, yet they are a huge part of the causes and factors that lead to it happening in the first. It's twisted logic that leads to that conclusion, but it's still logic nonetheless: "I hate my boring, suburban, upper class life that's totally environmentally unsustainable. Being part of a rich, "ethnic" culture of New Orleans makes me more "authentic" than my other hipster brethren could ever dream to be. But when I get there, I want to still access my vegan chicken product, my cleaned up shopping and arts district, and eww, I hate those redneck tourists that go there and muck up "my" place with those red go cups and unnecessary noise. If I can't get that, I'll ask Mayor Landrieu to regulate it for me!" And the cycle repeats itself.

  • Kakistocrat||

    The irony is that it makes me miss *Nagin. At least he was too busy making money deals and traveling to China on bribery money to bother with some hipster complaints about the nightlife culture.

    *I don't really miss Nagin.

  • TheZenomeProject||

    LOL, the unintended benefits of old-fashioned corruption: instead of all the gentry getting what they want, just a select few do. In all honesty, though, it's not that the stereotypical progressive lifestyle is inherently evil in any way, it's just that far too many of them are completely blind to the dissonance of moving into a city that they know has a reputation for a lack of social structure, and then later complaining about all the things that they signed up for. Very few know how to take the bad or even the "less good" with the great.

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