Because I’m in New Orleans. Well, I was last week… It’s one of the greatest cities in the world. It’s charming and unique, and every time I visit I have an absolute ball. If you like music, food, and culture, it’s pretty much impossible to have a bad time there. Alex K (my brother and business partner) went to school and got married there, so we’ve all felt connected to the city for decades.
Did you know that New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz? And that it’s the birthplace of rock n’ roll?! New Orleans has a one-of-a-kind story.
I was reminded of all this the past week when I attended the first NOLA MusicTech Summit organized by Melissa O’Brien, one of the legendary curators of SXSW back in its heyday. Now, she lives in New Orleans and brought the party home, timed gloriously with the start of JazzFest, the first one in three years.
Like many major cities, New Orleans has its share of problems. Times are tough in every corner of the country. But from my perspective, on a big picture level, what’s holding New Orleans back might just be a branding problem.
Mississippi claims to be the birthplace of American Music and Cleveland built the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but New Orleans could make a case for either. In 2022, the artists of New Orleans have mixed feelings about being pinned to the genre of jazz. Jazz? I love Jazz. America loves jazz. Jazz might be more relevant right now than it’s been in decades. Still, the New Orleans scene is unsure whether it wants to claim jazz as its be-all-end-all.
Nobody likes being put in a box. Pop music and jazz don’t really jive, so what’s an emerging NOLA artist to do? Of course, there’s deep rap history – from Master P and Lil’ Wayne to the bounce scene – and mainstream acclaim for artists like Trombone Shorty and recent grammy winner, Jon Batiste. The city’s sound evolves but it’s always distinctly New Orleans.
Mardi Gras, Essence Fest, and other big-ticket events pay the city’s bills, but there’s more to New Orleans than those tentpole moments. What’s needed is the infrastructure for innovation and IP to flourish. The rest of the story will write itself.
New Orleanians are resilient as hell and some of the most creative folks I know. As things settle back in post-pandemic and the great migration continues, New Orleans is well-positioned to become a U.S. powerhouse for culture and entertainment. There’s nothing I’d like to see more.
Also published on Medium.