The Bass Geek - Words about Music, Circuitry, and New Orleans
The Bass Geek

Good Neighbors

Somehow, gathering with a bunch of great people involved in New Orleans music and seeing Victor Wooten at the Howlin' Wolf yesterday got me down a little bit. Not that there wasn't talent, energy, and vibrancy in either place - it was obvious there was a ton of history and passion in what everybody did. But the gathering was the result of club owners and musicians trying to figure out how they can continue playing and performing in a city where labyrinthine zoning and permit regulations make it impossible to successfully manage a live music venue without a grandfather clause. In a place that gave (and continues to give) the world so much great music, it's technically illegal to rehearse in a home or have a poetry reading in a coffeeshop without a live music permit. It's just staggering. And unfortunately, there's a ton of legal work to perform in order to remedy this situation - although I'm an outsider at this point with no knowledge of the system here, I'm assuming this will be a monumental task. But we're talking about laws designed (in the words of one legal expert) to keep rock and roll out of the city - that ship has sailed. This city needs a full revision of zoning and permit laws to at least make it possible to work out live venue and performance rules.

At the end of the Victor Wooten show (which was a typically wonderful affair), he made a plea to just keep the video clips short when the audience inevitably posts on YouTube or other service and not give away the music. Obviously, there's differing schools of thought on how posting the video really affects sales and such (I point you to Steve Lawson for the extremely well-stated counterpoint to this). But it was a sad punctuation on an otherwise fine performance.

Through the whole day, the phrase "good neighbor" kept popping up in several contexts:

  • Bar owners making sure to reduce the amount of trash, noise, and parking issues in their neighborhoods
  • Neighborhood residents respecting the culture and history of neighborhoods they may have just moved into and not working to "Disneyfy" the place
  • Working with neighborhoods to make sure your voice is heard and understood
  • Respecting the wishes and needs of everybody in a neighborhood and being easy to live with

One of the lawyers at the meeting acknowledged her tendency to Pollyanna-ism, and I'm afraid this blog post tends to that as well. But wouldn't being a good musical neighbor go a long way here? Understanding that music is a part of culture everywhere, that it needs to be given room to grow and develop, and that both sides need to foster good relationships here to build on what we have (no need to review the RIAA and the textbook case of how they did EVERYTHING wrong).

Just a thought.

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  1. Damn zoning officials. 😉 I read some interesting articles on the topic after reading your post. Reminds me of some of Bloomington’s problems. IU and university students are our lifeblood and many cases livelihood, but so many people complain about living next to them. Any idea of the history of these regulations? why were they originally enacted? In NOLA is like most major Cities, its zoning regulations are probably a Frankenstein created over decades to respond to specific issues or as a reaction to a misguided development project. Are there people/groups that are pushing to keep the status quo? I’ll tell you one thing, attend a few more pro live music rallies and you won’t be an outsider for long!

  2. Sounds like they were enacted mainly as a NIMBY reaction or efforts to regulate the sins of music and alcohol. You are correct about the Frankenstein aspect – there are overlays, exceptions, moratoriums, and so many other confusing aspects to wrap your head around. It really is staggering. The city put this link out, but it only deals with the current situation and not the need for changes –

  3. This guy has an good synopsis.

    Some of it is only interesting to a zoning geek like me.

  4. Not at all – part of the meeting’s message was that all folks have to be informed on the issue to battle it. The update since that article is that many venues got moratoriums on shutting music down, but the fight isn’t over.

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