Music Allowed Again but Dancing Prohibited in New Orleans Music Venues

Even while venues themselves say live music will take time to come back, outdoor music, drunkenness and merriment have resumed.

People gather on Frenchmen St. in New Orleans on Saturday night as music returns to the city. (Courthouse News photo / Sabrina Canfield)

NEW ORLEANS (CN) — Just as the city had become awash in lovely weather and vibrant blossoms, New Orleans added live music inside venues this weekend, adding to a feeling of spring revival.

The news came on the tail of a sharp decline in Covid-19 infections and hospitalizations, but many signs point to reopening as presenting a complicated road ahead.

Also, dancing is still not allowed. 

The new regulations took place Friday morning, but some venues say it will take at least until April to pull off the many intricate stipulations laid out by Mayor Latoya Cantrell this past week. Among them, HVAC units must recycle fresh air six times per hour, horn musicians must stand eight feet from anyone else, and the audience cannot be closer than ten feet from the stage, unless a plexiglass barrier is installed, in which case the audience can be eight feet away.

“The guidelines are going to be pretty difficult to follow,” Russ Greiner, the general manager of Maison on Frenchmen Street said Saturday night.

Outside the Maison bar, which has yet to reopen in the face of continuing restrictions on dancing. (Courthouse News photo / Sabrina Canfield)

Greiner spoke of the complications with the HVAC regulations and plexiglass installation, but he also mentioned the nuisance of having to enforce certain regulations. For instance, to have to try and keep people from dancing.

“No one wants to tell people not to dance. No one wants to police that,” Greiner said. “No one even wants to insist on people wearing masks.”

He said that when venues do incorporate live music in the coming weeks, it’s not going to be as free as maybe people probably hope it will be — not yet.

For one thing, patrons will likely need to make reservations and they will need to stay in their seats.

Greiner said Maison was the first venue on Frenchmen Street to shutter last year and might well be the last venue to reopen — but it is reopening.

Frenchmen Street venues were not alone in finding the new regulations cumbersome. Citywide, the best known venues remained closed Saturday — Tipitina’s, Snug Harbor, Preservation Hall, Maple Leaf.

Greiner was at Maison Saturday evening to let students who were attending a mixology class at the bar into the building. Otherwise, aside from roughly one mixology class per day, the at one-time very popular Frenchmen Street restaurant and music venue has been closed this past year.

Frenchmen Street was once considered the local’s answer to Bourbon Street for its excellent music venues without the tourists, but had been a mix of locals and tourists just before Covid-19 hit. Saturday evening was no exception.

Two men on scooters came riding the wrong way down Frenchmen Street Saturday evening. “Dude, they’re all closed,” one said, apparently about the venues the whole, mostly dark street over, which, as he observed, were mostly all shuttered. 

Still, as dark and seemingly closed as it was, the street was anything but deserted.

A live band played inside Favela Chic, a Mexican restaurant and live music venue that was opened only the day before for the first time in months. Patrons had to have their temperature taken at the door and mostly viewed the band through one of two large windows from the street.

A live band plays at hotspot Favela Chic on Saturday night. (Courthouse News photo / Sabrina Canfield)

The Spotted Cat, a jazz venue always packed with dancing crowds in previous years but that has not reopened yet, sat eerily dark against a thick crowd Saturday night as Smoking Time Jazz Club played swing jazz in the lot beside it.

The crowd could not help but tap their feet and shake their hips in an exuberance that seemed to yearn for a revisit to the Roaring 20’s. Though the time to roar is not quite yet. 

Though there are no rules that exactly govern outdoor dancing to outdoor music, some of the masked crowd who danced seemed to be watchful as if they might be asked at any moment to stop. Meanwhile, others wore no masks and appeared to be joyously and without abandon hugging mere strangers.

And the alcohol flowed.

Shortly before 8 p.m., a handful of elderly people in wheelchairs who had been watching the band began to bicker and before long, one of the women lurched forward, wrapping her hands around the neck of another woman and knocking the woman and her wheelchair to the ground. The first group fled while the woman on the ground writhed.

Someone yelled to call 911 while a few passersby stopped over to check the fallen woman’s state. From the look of it she was drunk but otherwise probably basically unharmed.

“It’s alright, I’m a trained cardiologist,” an intoxicated elderly woman told anyone stopping over to see if the fallen woman needed assistance getting back into her wheelchair. “I’m practiced with this and I know what to do.”

Outside d.b.a., another popular live music venue, clumps of merry tourists watched the Smoking Time Jazz Club from across the street.

Among them were Cindy and Tom Stauffer, visiting from the Eastern Shore of Virginia who recounted the joy they said they witnessed in locals over the new live music regulations.

“Several local people we met just couldn’t help but go and mess with the band — talk to them, introduce themselves, visit with them. You can feel how much live music has been missed,” Cindy Stauffer said.

“There was a 73 year old who came and sat with us a while. Was so happy with the mayor for opening back up to live music. You could feel her excitement.”

Stauffer said it’s plain to see that music is intertwined in the fabric of New Orleans culture, that being separated from it this past year has created feelings of isolation in many.

“It’s so good it’s reopening now,” she said.

The Stauffers spoke also of how much they’d learned over the course of the day on Saturday about the service industry and how hard the past year has been on employees and business owners alike.

“The security guard inside d.b.a. said he only started working again yesterday,” Tom Stauffer said. “I gave him a ten. Told him congratulations on being back.” 

But the mood of a manager inside d.b.a. seemed more sober. He declined to give his name but stressed that the bands playing across the street from the popular venue were busking — that “they’re not being paid,” not by d.b.a. or any other venue.  

The point he wanted to make was that the hard times are far from over, that bars and venues and musicians are continuing to face enormous obstacles.

“We’re probably not going to reopen for live music indoors anytime soon,” he said, listing the near impossibility of some of Mayor Cantrell’s stipulations.

“It’s not happening,” he said. “Not anytime soon, I wouldn’t think.”  

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