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New Orleans Extends Outdoor Dining Program, but the Future of Outdoor Live Music Is Uncertain

With no plans to make COVID-era rules permanent, outdoor live music may come to an end when the city’s emergency declaration does

People sit in chairs watching Tank & The Bangas in concert the Broadside New Orleans, an all-outdoor music venue founded during the pandemic
Tank and The Bangas perform at The Broadside in March 2021 
Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images

The City of New Orleans has announced an extension of its temporary parklets and outdoor dining pilot program, launched one year ago, effectively waiving related permit fees for restaurants and bars through December 31, 2021. But as one COVID-era program meant to support the city’s hospitality industry is extended, the timeline of another remains unclear: The temporary permit rules that allowed outdoor live music in New Orleans throughout the past year.

New Orleans’s outdoor dining program was initially launched as a month-long pilot in October 2020, allowing restaurants in designated areas to expand their outdoor seating into public, on-street parking spaces, with permit fees waived. The city said it would use the pilot to inform a long-term curbside dining and parklet permit program — something it says is still in the works — identified as part of a broader vision “to use the public right of way to better support business activities and other initiatives around the city.” The pilot has been extended numerous times since last year; the latest extension says fees will continue to be waived through the end of year “while the City continues to develop a permanent parklet program.” At the time of launch, the city noted that when the long-term program begins, parklet locations will have to be ADA-compliant.

Also early on in the pandemic, the city lifted restrictions on outdoor live entertainment for many businesses, and suspended fees and limitations for special event permits, which are required to host live outdoor music outside of the French Quarter. But unlike with outdoor dining, the future of those temporary rules — which helped create a thriving outdoor music scene at a crucial time for local musicians and led to the establishment of a number of outdoor music venues — is uncertain. According to reporting by the Lens, unless action is taken by New Orleans’s city council, many outdoor venues would have to stop hosting live music once Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s coronavirus emergency declaration comes to a close.

The uncertainty throws the future of a number of businesses into question, and leaves many wondering what will happen to outdoor live music (outside of the French Quarter, that is) when COVID-era rules come to an end. The Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans (MaCCNO) is leading the charge to keep this issue at the forefront, in addition to the myriad ways it works to support New Orleans’s music and cultural community, recommending outdoor music patrons contact their councilmember or the mayor’s office to indicate their support.

For more from MaCCNO on the murky future of outdoor live music in New Orleans, see here.