New Orleans Musicians Get Left Out in the Cold with Complete City Mardi Gras Shutdown

The term “Black Friday,” which refers to the shopping day after Thanksgiving, is termed so not because of the darkness of people trampling over each other to secure a $99 big screen TV, but rather, it’s when retailers expect to go into the “black” (as opposed to red) on their P&Ls for the year. Put simpler, it’s when business booms and everybody makes a shitload of money.

Mardi Gras is New Orleans’ Black Friday. 

On Friday, February 5th, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell announced that all bars will be closed beginning Friday, February 12th, and remain shut through Fat Tuesday. In addition, to-go drinks, a staple of the Big Easy, are forbidden. Pedestrian traffic will not be allowed at night on the main tourist streets of Bourbon and Frenchman, and no business will be permitted to even sell package goods.

Despite Covid-19 being a thing for the last 10 months, people have still been coming to New Orleans. The mayor is hoping to mitigate the potential spread of the virus by limiting places for people to congregate in masses:

“I think we were all hopeful that we could strike the necessary balance for a safe and fun Mardi Gras, but given these new variants, the recent large crowds in the Quarter and the potential for even larger crowds this weekend and as we move into the weekend of Mardi Gras, it has become very apparent that it is hard to do” Cantrell said.

Restrictions in the city of New Orleans for Mardi Gras 2021

Is This Economic Suicide?

In a 2020 Fox Business report, the city was expected to take in over 1 billion dollars during Mardi Gras in the same year. That’s billion with a B. And that’s probably a conservative estimate considering how many artists make unreported income in a city rampant with performers. So a LOT of people aren’t gonna make ANY money this year. That hurts.

There are two sides to this, and they both suck. There are some who feel that the mayor is doing the responsible thing with a highly infectious virus still touring the U.S., and there are others who think that she is overreacting and they call her names and stuff.

Either way, there are tens of thousands of people who are being denied the chance to work during the biggest weekend of the year in New Orleans. This includes not just musicians, but also bartenders, managers, shot girls, waiters and waitresses, hotel staff, theater workers, street performers and more. That has a major affect on people’s wallets, but perhaps even more-so, on people’s spirits.

The die-hards, or “lifers,” have found a way to manage. In southern Louisiana, there are a good handful of places to play outside of the city, which in most cases involves an outdoor setup. There are enough people hungry for live music, and enough opportunity to social distance if people so choose to put together some great shows. But even that has recently been put in jeopardy as the ATC is cracking down on venues that are violating code. 

With dropping temperatures, many of the outdoor shows that have been planned for the weekend through Fat Tuesday have either been cancelled, or may be cancelled come show time. All of this puts musicians in limbo during the biggest weekend of the year in the Crescent City. 

Is There a Better Solution?

Maybe. Any establishment that invites patrons can have a door guy that only allows customers wearing masks to enter. There are already door guys in place at venues with bands. Simple.

Things become difficult, though, once people are inside. You need mouth access to drink, and the mask covers that hole. Bars and clubs make their revenue by selling drinks. And of course, once people start imbibing, inhibitions get lowered along with masks. 

The general public who are not afraid of Covid-19 are still doing stuff. This time of year, that stuff includes coming to New Orleans. The mayor can’t stop that from happening, and those tourists will find a way to get booze and explore the city.  Nobody will be policing that. 

People are going to be in the city anyway no matter what anybody says. I got a text from a friend in NJ telling me that a bunch of his friends are coming down for the weekend and wanted to know where I was playing. I had to reveal the unfortunate facts to him, to which he responded with genuine shock.

So why not allow people to work, allow businesses to run, and allow bands to play? We’re pretty much all good here. We know the deal, we’re responsible, and we want to work. This is a fun time for us and there will already be people here…so…..

Even though I’m a full-time musician normally, and I agree with the previous sentiments, I also understand the other side. There is a pandemic that is still moving its way around, mutating, making people sick, and killing human beings. So yeah, I understand the choice to err on the side of caution. 

Shutting the city down is drastic. It’s affecting a lot of people. Like, a lot a lot. It may be the “right” thing to do in the face of scientific facts, but the fact that tens of thousands of people are going to be devastated by this decision cannot be ignored.

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