Monday, April 27, 2009

Record/Not Record

I recently got the following press release from the organizers of French Quarter Festival, which took place the weekend before Jazz Fest this year:

NEW ORLEANS – April 17, 18 and 19, 2009, marked the 26th anniversary and a record year for French Quarter Festival. This year’s attendance figures indicate that more than 441,000* festival-goers enjoyed the music, food, special events and of course, the historic French Quarter. Visitors and locals alike enjoyed a unique weekend that only New Orleans can deliver.

The asterisk after its record attendance figure refers to an explanatory note at the bottom of the release:

*Attendance numbers are calculated based on actual counts (that are adjusted down by percentage to account for repeat entrances and exits). Fess Security counts at entry and exit points of major stages. This number does not include attendance at the festival’s Royal, Bourbon, Chartres and French Market stages, Battle of the Bands, Dancing at Dusk, Courtyard Tours, Cathedral Concert, Opera at the Cabildo, and other special events. The organization is pleased to report record sales of food, beverages and merchandise.

Because attendance is free and there are no gates to measure points of entry, this record number - the second in a row - is an estimate. Obviously, much of that paragraph is there to suggest that perhaps the numbers might be underreported because of all the things that didn't figure in the count. Or, the count is high and who would know?

There's no question that the French Quarter Festival has had two good years in a row, regardless of whether or not they have numbers to back up their belief that attendance has grown. The question is why a narrative of record-breaking growth is offered. Are we that married to the abstract importance of growth? Obviously, growth at any cost wasn't good for our economy, and after Saturday and Sunday at Jazz Fest, there's a point at which growth isn't good for Jazz Fest as an experience. I'm sure it makes it more profitable, but for us sheep, more sheep equals less fun. Perhaps a little rethinking is in order.

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