BANGOR, Maine — More than a few area residents were seeing red over a blue streak they heard during portions of Sunday’s Oxxfest concert at the Bangor Waterfront Pavilion.
The 12-hour, all-day rock concert featuring 19 bands — 13 of which were local — was loud enough for some people, but when at least a couple of acts repeatedly used profanity, including the F-word, and encouraged female fans to flash them, it was a lot more than some area residents wanted to hear.
“I’m not a prude, and don’t get me wrong, I’m not against the concerts,” said Ann Birmingham, who lives at Eaton Place in Bangor. “I love the fact we cleaned up the waterfront, but when I’m out with my 19-month-old granddaughter and hearing someone yelling, ‘Hey, effing Bangor, how are you effing doing?’ that was an intrusion on everybody outside the concert.”
Birmingham said she usually enjoys listening to the music outside her house and has attended two concerts.
“But this really shocked me,” she said Wednesday in a telephone interview.
Birmingham and a Carmel resident had letters to the editor in Wednesday’s editions of the BDN specifically complaining about the act playing at 7:30 p.m., which would have been My Darkest Days.
The Carmel resident referred to the band’s lead singer using profane language to describe sexual positions and experiences while also threatening not to play unless he saw at least 10 sets of breasts, prompting several female fans to flash the stage and those around them.
Bangor Police Chief Ron Gastia said there are no laws or city ordinances on the books against public profanity or swearing.
“There are some [laws] that talk about disorderly conduct, which we use on a fairly regular basis for people who are acting in a way that causes a real annoyance to others,” Gastia explained. “That has to be something that entices or sparks a fight or altercation, like if you’re screaming at someone in the middle of the road and not letting the other person leave.”
Gastia said an incident like that is a Class E crime and would also have to involve intent.
“The concerts are not happening for that purpose,” Gastia said. “In my opinion, they’re exercising their freedom of speech. Is it offensive? Yes. Do I understand people being upset about it? Of course I do, but there’s not a lot we can about it from a law enforcement standpoint.”
Waterfront Concerts promoter Alex Gray echoed Gastia’s statement, adding that there is contractual language urging bands to respect the residential surroundings and refrain from using illegal drugs, contraband and profanity.
“In our contract, we have a purchaser’s addendum, which states that the Bangor Waterfront Pavilion is in a commercial area adjacent to a residential area, and that during the week it doubles as a city park, so no contraband, profanity, etc.,” Gray said. “Do I condone it? No, by no means. Do I want it? No, but there’s the problem of what is free speech and what is profanity.”
And while the tour and band managers are provided with the terms of the purchaser’s addendum, the likelihood is that the band members are never shown it.
“And even if they did, I’m sure it would make some of them use that language even more,” Gray said.
Gray said he has more control when it comes to local bands that perform as undercard or warm-up acts.
“If the local bands did that, we would mute them by shutting off their microphones, cutting their set short, and going to the next band,” Gray said.
Circumstances are a bit different when it comes to fans exhibiting partial nudity.
“I think those are things we need to be very conscious and careful of, because there are city ordinances against public nudity, including going topless,” said Gastia. “Those are things we’re going to have to keep watch on and step in on.”
Gastia compared flashing to using marijuana or smuggling in liquor, which police don’t expend every last resource to stamp out but will make an arrest or issue a summons when they see it.
“There’s a commonsense thing that applies to how we address it during, after, or at all,” Gastia said. “But freedom of expression and speech does not mean freedom to commit crimes. That speaks for itself.”
That wasn’t entirely comforting to Birmingham and like-minded residents who were shocked or infuriated by the loud, profane language — especially on a Sunday.
“Do we not have respect for that day anymore?” she asked. “If I took a microphone and walked down Bangor doing that, what would happen to me? And it’s not like I could turn the volume down or change the station.”
“We’ll have 200,000 people coming down to the waterfront and spending a ton of money, so is it worth a little extra bad language? I think it is,” said Gray. “Do I like hearing it? No, but I also understand the nature of the shows and artistic license, freedom of speech and freedom of expression. There’s only so much you can do to limit speech.”
It won’t be long before Birmingham has another close encounter with Waterfront Concerts. She’s going to the J. Geils Band-Chris Robinson Brotherhood concert Thursday night.