What’s the Future of New Orleans Jazz Fest?

by Harrison Chastang on May 5, 2009

NEW ORLEANS — It’s 2:00 AM on Frenchman Street in New Orleans on the last night of Jazzfest; the clubs are packed, but the real action is on the street. The Krewe of Whitehead has two trucks cooking serious “Creole Cajun Cuisine” while on the corner of Royal and Frenchman a 10 member brass band of young African American men are jamming, while up the street a multi-ethnic brass band combines traditional New Orleans sounds with samba and reggae beats.

There are hundrrds of people in the street and on the sidewalk with every kind of drink imaginable from beer to hurricanes, a wicked red rum drink invented on New Orleans. Every so often a New Orleans police car rolls through the crowds but keeps on going. On another corner, a woman is tossing a flaming baton into the air.

This is the scene on Frenchman Street after most fairs and festivals in New Orleans. New Orleans people call Frenchman Street the grown ups version of the infamous Bourbon Street about six blocks away. The clubs on Frenchman features much of the same music played in the Bourbon Street clubs, but without the violence associated with Bourbon Street.

New Orleans is one of the only cities in America where the entertainment community has equal footing with influencial homeowners, landlords and political contributors who in San Francisco and most other cities persuade boards and commissions to sharply limit or to outright ban the evening and latenight entertainment found on Frenchman Street.

Before Hurricane Katrina, anyone who moved to a place near Bourbon or Frenchman knew the area was major entertainment zone and realized that complaining would be futile. Many of the people who lived in or around Bourbon or Frenchman worked in the hotel or entertainment industries. Since Katrina, fewer entertainters and front line hotel workers can afford to live near Frenchmen or Bourbon streets. In their place are young professionals who either have to be at the office early, or young children whose sleep is distribed.

Longtime French Quarter residents say the newcomers have gained influence at City Hall and asked New Orleans officials to limit the Frenchmam Street party scene. Club owners contend that tourism is the number one industry in New Orleans and that limiting the Frenchman party scene and could cost jobs and million in tax revenue; and could even discourage visitors from coming to New Orleans.

Several Frenchman Street residents from San Francisco say they’re concerned that Frenchman Street could lose it’s music clubs much in the same way many of San Francisco’s South of Market 11th street music clubs disappeared after numerous noise and traffic complaints.

It’s nearly 2:00 AM, the brass bands are gone but the clubs are still packed and there are just as many people out on the street. Will folks who visit Frenchman Street next year come back to a scene similar to this year’s late night fun or a Frenchman Street more like a late night in San Francisco.

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