A concert/prayer gathering on Saturday in New Orleans, LA’s French Quarter has drawn backlash from the local music community and sparked calls for a government investigation after hundreds gathered in a public space without permits—and, largely, without masks—as coronavirus cases spike around the country and local guidelines continue to preclude the usual operation of the city’s vibrant live music scene.
Per NOLA.com, the gathering, which took place across from Jackson Square, saw Decatur Street fill with hundreds of attendees as “preachers and musicians performed from the steps of Washington Artillery Park. … A line of New Orleans Police Department officers watched from barricades they’d erected to close the street to traffic for the Saturday afternoon event.”
The event appeared to have been organized by evangelical speaker, author, and Christian rocker Sean Feucht, who also mounted an unsuccessful Congressional campaign in California earlier this year, and featured Louisiana native Lauren Daigle. The event was the latest in a string of such pop-ups in cities around the country under the banner of Feucht’s #LetUsWorship campaign, which alleges that COVID-imposed restrictions on large prayer gatherings constitute “unlawful censorship and discrimination” while ignoring the fact that all large gatherings are on hold due to a health crisis that threatens all people, no matter their religious or political beliefs. In recent weeks, Feucht has held similar gatherings in Washington, D.C., Nashville, and more, prompting an October Rolling Stone feature on his events with the headline, “Jesus Christ: Superspreader?“.
In one of several videos from the gathering posted by Feucht, a large, maskless crowd is seen dancing along to the live performance. As Feucht wrote for the video’s caption, “Celebrating so many salvations and miracles tonight across from [sic] Boubon Street! Thousands [sic] of of fiery Cajuns for Jesus!”
On Monday morning, Feucht was interviewed on Christian Broadcast Network (CBN). During the interview, he spoke about the gathering in New Orleans, explaining how “preaching the simple gospel in the middle of a season that’s divisive, it always works. … Even in the midst of the uncertainty, the gospel still rocks.” Watch the interview below.
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Various musicians and entertainers in the city have come out in opposition to the gathering, which took place without safety protocols in a city in which the live music industry—the lifeblood of the town’s culture—remains in dire straits. Even with the city’s shift into “Phase 3.3” of reopening on Monday, the livelihoods of local musicians remain in flux as New Orleans maintains strict COVID regulations on nightlife and live performances following a particularly devastating wave of new cases over the summer.
DJ Soul Sister, a longtime on-air personality on New Orleans’ revered WWOZ, reposted the aforementioned video along with an unforgiving rebuke of the concert. “HOW in the hell does this happen (yesterday) in New Orleans in the middle of a pandemic, not a mask nor social distanced space in sight. Who allows this kind of thing, and how, and WHY???? Also, last I was told, OUR New Orleans musicians, whose historic culture created the foundation for American popular music, are still not allowed to perform en masse (or even minimally) in OUR city. And our venues can’t hold musical events and many will close. We can’t have festivals. We can’t have second lines. We can’t have jazz funerals. We can’t do our New Orleans things. And we are following the rules so that we are in compliance in order to keep ourselves and others safe as we move towards ending the pandemic with science. BUT *THIS* can happen with non-New Orleanians in the open across from Jackson Square in the middle of the French Quarter?????”
New Orleans saxophonist/multi-instrumentalist/producer Khris Royal (Dark Matter, Rebelution) asked in an Instagram post containing a repost of the same clip, “[Mayor LaToya Cantrell,] please explain to me why this super spreader event is allowed but musicians aren’t allowed to have safe socially distanced limited capacity shows where people actually wear masks?”
Trombonist/bandleader “Big” Sam Williams (Big Sam’s Funky Nation) echoed that sentiment in another post, noting “New Orleans better start caring for their own. It’ll never happen though. Cats before me always said how our city take us for granted! It’s still happening now…”
Feucht on Monday tweeted his own repudiation of the social media backlash spurred by his #LetUsWorship gathering in New Orleans, calling out the media for what he perceives to be a double standard regarding the portrayal of his #LetUsWorship events and the impromptu gatherings that took place when the presidential election was finally called on Saturday.
— Sean Feucht (@seanfeucht) November 9, 2020
Yet, as Feucht continues to assert that he and his crowds of attendees are facing religious persecution as a result of COVID-imposed restrictions on all gatherings—religious or otherwise—his actions threaten to further delay the eventual return of live music in New Orleans for the many struggling artists and industry workers who call the city home.
While the #LetUsWorship event went on in Jackson Square on Saturday, Mayor Cantrell was a few blocks away on Bourbon Street handing out masks to visitors as part of the city’s #MaskUpNOLA campaign in an attempt to encourage pandemic-safe behavior in the city.
— Mayor LaToya Cantrell (@mayorcantrell) November 7, 2020
In a press conference on Monday, Cantrell officially denounced Feucht’s event, noting that it was “not permitted, not allowed, not authorized, not coordinated at all by the City of New Orleans.” She went on to explain that she heard about the event from a concerned resident on Saturday and attempted to be proactive in preventing the event from happening. Despite being notified that it was not permitted, she said, “the organizers used the pretense of religion to hold this event with other motives, and that simply was not right. … Due to the size of the unpermitted event, the NOPD had to block off traffic in the area and, of course, de-escalate events as we knew what happened in other cities … [The NOPD] did so in the interest of public safety. Neither NOPD nor the city will in any way condone this reckless behavior in our city … I was furious.”
Cantrell went on to note that her outrage was in line with the many residents who had voiced their frustrations and that she appreciated the sentiment from the people of her city. “You all, the public, our residents, have been doing what’s necessary to curb this pandemic in our community.”
Cantrell also said that the city would seek punitive action against the event’s organizers, promising to explore every available action in order to to hold them accountable. “While this was under the guise of a religious activity,” she said, “We know that it put our people in danger.” Watch Mayor Cantrell’s full address on the unsanctioned event below:
— Mayor LaToya Cantrell (@mayorcantrell) November 9, 2020