Music interviews with FOUR of N.O.’s District C candidates (VICE. 2014).


JUDGE NADINE RAMSEY

Do you believe that New Orleans’s sound ordinances need to be updated? As it currently stands, yes. I feel that the citizens that the soundscape plan got from the consultants was something everyone can work with, however the amendment that was put in was not done with inpt from the music community or citizens.

Offending musicians are breaking the current sound laws – does it make sense to respond with stricter laws? Actually there are some businesses that have music that are also concerned with the sound ordinances. Do you mean street musicians?

I lived on a block with a music club for the last 10 years and 50 on the block, only two people…it was like no one else’s opinion mattered but those two people who disliked it. How do we move away from governing for the minority? Some groups have been more vocal than others, and certainly it’s a quality of life issue. I believe that everybody recognizes that and would like to have a seat at the table.

What would we have to do to scrap this whol deal and just use the existing soundlaws, which are pretty strict? Realistically, that horse has left the barn, and people are going to want a new noise ordinance. The best we can hope for is to get input from everyone.

As far as the horse leaving the barn: in terms of Bourbon Street and Frenchmen street – the heart of New Orleans’s music scene right now – isn’t trying to change those things like the horse left the barn in terms of the music? [laughs] Well, right now you have these 27th… For City Council, that topic has become the number one topic. And I don’t believe we’re going to go back and scrap the amendment and leave it how it was before. And I don’t think anyone has an issue with that, they just want a seat at the table.

They keep calling this a noise ordinance, or a sound ordinance, but it’s specifically a music ordinance – it exempts construction noise and every other kind of sound. All of us have had the 7am construction crew near our house at some point. My working musician friends work late raking in those tourist dollars for the city and they can’t have people waking them up at 7am! Construction though, will be protected noise. Whereas if I woke up at 7am and started having band practice, cops would show up in 15 minutes. Why is construction more important than music? [laughs] The movement from noise ordinance was, some people found the word noise offense and wanted “sound.” The difference with the construction would be a specific length of time, where as if you are talking about music in a nightclub that’s a day-to-day activity. The construction has not been much of a source of discomfort, but the music has been.

I disagree… Anyway, the phrase I keep hearing is that everyone is going to have to come to the table “in the spirit of compromise.” Obviously the musicians are going to have to maybe deal with lower decibel levels in some areas, and closing times for bars etc. How will those who want peace and quiet end up compromising? It would limit the noise, limit the hours… They can’t play whenever they want. If it’s not cut off until 10-oclock, they’re gonna hear music till then even if they don’t want to.

That’s what the sound laws are right now! Anyway, how do we hypothetically protect brass bands that play outside? It’s important, you don’t have to have a gig at a club, it’s always been the testing ground for every famous local musicians it seems like. That’s why the stakeholders want a seat at the table…

I am trying to figure out what you are made of though, and how you regard music. I had a brass band play at an event for me the other night outside and had a great time. But I do realize there’s a balance between the people who live in this area and maintain our culture. You don’t want to tell people they shouldn’t live there, that they should move. That’s not the spirit of New Orleans. But at the same time we enjoy our music to pop up on the street corner. We just have to balance it through having conversations.

Where in the world can musicians play and not be shut down? Ask people to move away? I don’t know if that’s a fair resolution to tell someone where they can live. The reality is we have to accept there are people who live in those neighborhoods…

And don’t they have to accept that musicians live in those neighborhoods? Yeah, I am not arguing with you. We want our musicians to flourish. But we all know that life is not just one way or the other.

But when it comes to sound ordinances it often is one way or another. Musicians are asked to turn down and take it down the road in almost every case. No one officially ever tells a resident, you should move away from the music if you don’t like it. You been living in another city?

No, here! I’ve watched 100 parties shut down, the club by my house got shut down two months because of two neighbors on a block of 50 people. Maybe I am just living in a fantasy world but I want some candidate to say: we are going to preference our musicians in a way other cities do not. How can they be considered as important and as a resident’s right to not hear any sound creep through their windows? What happened in the past on this council has happened because of the representation on the council, but if you have someone with respect for our culture and understands that there’s a balance and no feeling of one side is always going to be right – I think all you’re asking for is to be treated fairly.

But many people live in New Orleans because their quality of life depends on music. Will you be working for those people? I don’t ever want to leave you with permission that every time the musicians should have to move. I keep answering this question but you don’t like my answer. I would need to bring everyone to the table, hear them out, I am not biased one way or the other.

CARLOS WILLIAMS 

 So are you a musician? WellI’m a Zulu member, and as Zulu members we parade our fallen ones, so you know about Zulu and our celebration tactics – we love music. We parade all over the city playing jazz, especially in district C. So I think we need to revisit that noise ordinance again.

Would you consider just scrapping these new proposed ordinances entirely and keeping the existing laws? I think they should scrap it. We do have enough laws in place. I work in a tourism business at Director of Operations at the Fairmont Hotels, I am now the banquet director and I’ve never understood; it’s like taking a bat and beating someone over the head of with it. Forcing it on the people and public is wrong in the best city for jazz. And it’s a mean spirit behind it — which is why I am running for city council to make sure we take that one off.

The other candidates say we scrap it because a majority want stricter sound laws. In that true from your vantagepoint in the community? Or is this fueled by a minority? There’s a lot of musicians in that district, and I can’t speak for all of them, but the ones I know they’re not happy with this. A lof restaurants with music are not happy. That’s what I hear in that district. It would be hypocritical of me, as a Zulu member. We need to revisit that ordinance.

I know one guy and I won’t say his name, he tells me his business sounded the same way for many, many years, and he still had a run-in with code enforcement. Who decides which clubs get checked? It seems to be targeted. And a lot of people don’t think the reading is incorrect. It can cause more problems – at least there’s no criminal penalty, you’re not going to go to jail.

Residential concerns are always prioritized, how can we be the one city that prioritizes our musicians instead? You can tell I’m not a politician cause I’m not gonna be politically correct. New Orleans is the history of jazz. Bourbon Street and congo square – District C was meant for that type of music. It was meant to be live all the time. What draws people to New Orleans is the vitality. We have to make a compromise but you can’t expect to have solitude in downtown New Orleans. You can expect respect but c’mon, this is New Orleans.

When I think about it, I take genre out of the equation. The real tradition in New Orleans is making music, whatever kind. Yeah, when I say jazz, I’m saying music. You see guys with a foot tub banging that bass, you have kids out there singing gospel tunes. That is the original New Orleans. When I was a little boy we used to come down to the markey to get red beans to the sack and during the daytime you’d hear people singing choir tunes. Music, period. This is just a very live city.  This isn’t a very political answer but, I love the liveliness New Orleans. I’m not saying we shouldn’t respect other people, but if I am the guy looking for peace and quiet well I wouldn’t be downtown, man. I’m not being negative. If I want the birds chirpin, downtown is not the ideal spot.

What would you say to the people who’ve lived on Frenchmen Street for a long time and seen it change into an entertainment district, and feel sort of violated? As a City Council person you’ve got to reach out to them and see what types of solutions you can reach with them. But if I give a neutral answer people won’t know where I stand. This area has always been like this. I remember coming down here for over 30 years and it was more lively then than it is now. I mean it never slept back then. You had bands playing, Bob French and them going from one gig to another, jump into these areas and start playing at 3 o clock in the morning. They could never sleep in those days. The place was more live over forty years ago. When I was a little boy I’d go with my grandfather who would throw the papers, and people were still out or walking home. They musicians would get home at 7 in the morning. Have you ever been by one of these public schools when the band starts playing? That’s another reason I don’t understand the ordinance. I can hear Edna Carr High School from five blocks away, and I don’t feel like I’m being violated.

LOURDES MORAN 

You joked to me that you’re one of the candidates who have a real job. Where do you work? My employer is CoFax Collections North America

A collection agency? Yes but they also sell receivables insurance and they have an international side as well.

They don’t handle any traffic cameras do they? No, no they don’t [laughs].

Whenever I think of collection agencies I think of traffic cameras now. What got you into the race? It was a last minute decision when I found out Kristen wasn’t going to run. I just thought the transition from OPSB to City Council would be a good fit, consistent, moving forward and trying to make a difference in the city through reforms.

I am not a politics expert but I feel like what I’ve learned in  covering City Council is that a lot of things people blame the Mayor for are actually the fault of City Councils . If more people knew that… They be a little more engaged? [laughs]

One of the first acts in Landrieu’s cultural economy scheme was to make sure musicians followed the law about not posting fliers… Is that why I don’t see them anymore?! I wondered.

Yes, that was the first way in which he ran afoul of the music scene. But don’t worry, as a politician you are still allowed to post fliers. Only the rest of us will be fined. [laughs] OK, good.

Anyway, the Landrieu administration then went around legally shaking down all the clubs, making sure they had paid every dime they owed or else they shut that club down and put all its employees out of work until the beurocracy was worked out. He quickly realized this wasn’t a great idea PR-wise and started just warning clubs in a less harmful way. I see. 

Do you go out and see live music? What’s your relationship to the live music scene in New Orleans? I do go out. I thoroughly enjoy live music. And I remember when the city had places a tax on venues that had live music [WHEN?]. That was a big thing at the time as well.  It was thought that it was going to drastically reduce if not eliminate live music, and I do believe it did have an impact with big performers that would want to come here. It’s not something I have firsthand knowledge on. But I believe it had some type of ripple effect in the bigger platform.

If music is not impeding the majority’s happiness shouldn’t it be allowed to go on? Personally I am against the government regulating music in any way unless it is hurting someone else. How do you feel about government regulation of music? Well, it’s a business. You’re self employed. When you run a business you are required to carry permits and you have to have certain standards. It has to be some regulation to some degree.

How might you solve this dispute? Well. Why aren’t the property owners aren’t required to soundproof their building if they are going to lease them out to music venues? The burden currently doesn’t lie on the business owner to keep the noise within the establishment.

There’s already decibel limit. So if you are not breaking that law, why should you be forced to spend money on soundproofing? But how are you going to measure that?

With a decibel meter. And a wristwatch so you can tell if you’re allowed to play that loud that late at night. Right [laughs].

By law no one is allowed to shut down anything unless they can show you on the decibel meter that you are breaking the sound law. The biggest problem has been inconsistent code enforcement. If there was some consistent enforcement the residents wouldn’t be as adamant about [creating new laws]. I don’t understand why if you have property on Bourbon Street or the Marigny and you want to lease it or sell it and you know your target is a bar or a nightclub, why isn’t the building soundproofed.

For the same reason I don’t always wear a bullet proof vest; because even though it’s New Orleans, I am pretty sure I am not going to be shot. So why buy a vest? [laughs]

As someone who goes out, do you think the laws need to be changed at all? Do they not seem to be working? You can continue to change the laws but if there is no code enforcement… That seems to be the problem in the French Quarter. And I do understand the argument, ‘Why did you move next to a bar?’

I’ll take it a step further and say, ‘Why do you live in New Orleans?’ It’s like living in a bird sanctuary and being really uptight about getting a little bird poo on you. [laughs] That’s not true.

But music is what we’re known for, so of course it’s going to brush against you once in a while wether you like it or not. The Quarter was not always like this. It was a residential area, the whole thing, and over the course of time it started changing. Bourbon Street was not known for bars and clubs. It was known for strip joints.

Burlesque with live bands! That’s correct. But even so, you didn’t have the amplification that exists today. You have to look at this issue in the spirit of how all of this came about. You really have to find common ground on both sides. We don’t want makes us special diminished but we also need our residents. They deserve and are entitled to a quality of life. But whatever changes are made by the current City Council it’s still not going to make anyone happy without the correct code enforcement. The residents aren’t going to be happy. And then when you make a periodic check, you’re going to irritate the musicians – actually it’s mostly the businesses. The musicians aren’t looking at it as their livelihood. Businesses can’t operate with the music full blast.

Well a lot of this was sparked by brass bands playing outside. The chased them off Canal, then chase them off Bourbon. So now they’re down on Frenchmen. Well, I’ma tell you. I have a little bit of a problem with brass bands just stopping and playing anywhere in the city – because of sometimes the crowd that it draws. It doesn’t necessarily bring a warm and fuzzy feeling. There’s a safety issue there with the crowd, within the crowd. A safety issue is brought about.

Was there an accident or something? I have never heard of anything happening. When I go down to the Quarter I see them performing on the first block of Bourbon, they perform in Jackson Square and I do believe on occasions on Decatur. We have residents on Jackson Square. We do have residents on Decatur. Maybe if there were a venue where brass bands were allowed to perform, like a…I want to say like how comedy clubs have amateur night. Maybe that would curtail it, I don’t know…

What about the concept of letting it thrive and letting the residents who it bothers go to the quieter areas? I mean it’s not like it’s easier for an entire music scene to move than it is for a few residents to move. It’s going to be an inconvenience for somebody. Traditionally it’s always an inconvenience for the musicians. Why not the other way around? You mean have the residents move? [laughs] I hear that point, but from my perspective you have to have respect for residents… I visit other cities there are some areas that have music and those areas are specifically designed for that purpose.

But that is why it’s not as cool as New Orleans and there is no as much music. You just described what makes New Orleans great… But what makes New Orleans great is the diversity and the atmosphere that you’re asking me whether we should … you’re asking me to pick a side, and I don’t think we need to do that. I strongly believe we can find a balance. You have to strike a balance. There has to be a level of respect for both the residents and for the people that are trying to earn a living through the trade of music.

But what if it is only one person out of 20 neighbors? I have seen a million times how even a small minority… You’re talking to someone who was on the school board who had a small handful of critics who came forward to offer constant argument to why the system didn’t work, but they offered no solutions. That’s the example that you’re giving me. And I have a problem with that. Offer me a solution. I am prepared to hear the solution to the complaint. Within the codes that are in place…and maybe something that can be discussed with the musicians and residents and whoever it may be… This is a really difficult subject… I have a thought process and that process is to listen to both sides and weighing the arguments of both and finding the people with the skill set necessary to bring people to the table and have that discussion. For me, my observation hearing this argument is about code enforcement. The city has failed the citizens and so there is lack of trust by musicians and citizens. The city has no backbone to make that decision.

So you would say that we don’t need new ordinances, we just need the old ones enforced. I wouldn’t say that… [laughs] It’s like being on a playground: you’re not going to make anyone happy. Did the amendments come forward because there was no enforcement of the original ordinances? Has the are changed so much that we need new ordinances? I’d have to answer those questions before I knew if the answer to that was yes or no.

ELOISE WILLIAMS

So, I am writing a story about how each candidate feels about recently proposed music ordinances and… [interrupts] I will make your story short: I stand with the musicians. I love to dance! People should be more careful about moving into a loud area…

What about those who’ve say they lived on, say Frenchmen Street, since before it was an entertainment district? That’s not true, New Orleans itself has been an entertainment industry for centuries. I am 73 and I remember when people would make their own instruments and go play music on the corner of Canal Street, or Bourbon. So people know there is a history of music here. The French Quarter is the most recognized community of music in the world.

Are you actually saying that if certain residents don’t like the music, they should move? If you want to keep music low key for a certain amount of people, it’s only gonna be a chosen few, not the majority of the people. You wanna turn everybody’s life around just to benefit yourself. People are coming here to enjoy New Orleans style; they won’t come here if you stop people from playing music. You being selfish. Let all these musicians do what they do best.

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