Some Bangor residents call on Waterfront Concerts to ‘turn it down;’ others argue noise is part of appeal
BANGOR, Maine — Some Bangor residents want the city to tone down the Waterfront Concerts, arguing their quality of life and right to peace and quiet on summer nights are being disrupted. Others defend the concerts as a boon to the city’s growth and diversity, and argue that organizers and artists are simply catering to the desires of the thousands of fans who purchase tickets.
A Monday night City Council workshop drew dozens of residents, who packed into council chambers to voice their support for Waterfront Concerts or call for organizers to find ways turn down the volume.
The meeting was called after the city received about 25 complaints from residents of Bangor and a smattering from outlying communities during a July 17 heavy metal music festival.
Paul Trommer of Leighton Street in Bangor said the concerts have resulted in an “erosion of the quality of life in Bangor.”
“I’m no prude, but I’ve got a real problem with the screaming and foul language at these concerts,” Trommer told the council. “You’ve hoisted it on the city, you’ve turned downtown into a mosh pit.”
“My home is no longer a sanctuary on concert evenings,” said First Street resident Ron Hoelzer. “We’ve been driven out of our homes.”
Barbara Sosman, also of Leighton Street, said she was concerned that the low bass notes coming from the waterfront on concert nights were harming her health.
“My experience is physical and includes feelings of pressure in my chest, effects to my heart rate and/or blood pressure and nausea,” she said. “Closing my windows has not helped.”
Jason Foley, another Bangor resident, countered that deep bass and reverberation were important parts of any good rock show that come with the price of admission. He said he felt critics of the sound level were targeting specific genres and fans of those styles of music — heavy metal and rock. He argued that it was important for Waterfront Concerts to draw a diverse group of performers who suit the tastes of different groups of people.
Waterfront Concerts promoter Alex Gray also has attributed most complaints to “taste intolerance,” citing the fact that the loudest concert to date was Reba McEntire in 2011, but that concert also received the fewest complaints. Sunday night’s Barenaked Ladies concert was quieter than most, but still drew complaints. He expects Tuesday’s hip-hop performances to draw more complaints because of the heavy use of bass notes, which carry farther and spread in all directions, rather than going where the speakers are aimed.
Bangor police received nine complaints from residents during Sunday night’s Barenaked Ladies and Ben Folds Five performance, Sgt. Paul Edwards said Monday morning.
Several speakers at Monday’s meeting, including Kerrie Tripp of the Greater Bangor Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and John Porter, president of the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce, defended the concerts as a boon for Bangor’s economic and cultural development.
“The economic impact of these concerts is huge,” Tripp said, citing the fact that Bangor ran out of hotel rooms during this month’s Phish concert and people were referred to rooms as far away as Bar Harbor and Waterville.
A study released early this year by University of Maine economist Todd Gabe found that the concert series generated more than $30 million for the local economy in its first three years. Gray said he expects this to be the series’ biggest year yet, with more big-name acts in more genres than any of its previous years.
A few noise complaints have followed most concerts on the Bangor Waterfront since they started in 2010. This year, Waterfront Concerts built the Darling ’ s Waterfront Pavilion, which is pointed toward the downtown area and includes a gradual slope meant to redirect sound and create a better overall venue for artists, concertgoers and neighboring residents. Those changes reduced noise issues in Bangor’s West Side neighborhoods, where the stage previously had been pointed, but the sound is now aimed at East Side neighborhoods, which is a more recent source of complaints. Others are coming in from Brewer, according to Bangor Parks and Recreation Director Tracy Willette.
Gray said neither he nor the city expected that the venue shift would resolve all the noise problems.
Bangor has noise ordinances that restrict decibel levels coming from bars, taverns and nightclubs; vehicles; and radios or other audio devices in public areas. None of those apply to Waterfront Concerts, according to City Solicitor Norm Heitmann.
The venue does have to meet certain noise standards laid out by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, and city staff monitor decibel levels inside the the venue, as well as in several spots in Bangor and Brewer, according to Willette. So far, no concert has surpassed those decibel limits. He said the city would continue to measure those levels.
Waterfront Concerts has an agreement with the city that runs through 2016, and city staff are working with Waterfront Concerts on a renewed agreement that would stretch that for another five years now that the new, more permanent stage is up.
Most of those who called for the city to find ways to quiet the performances said they were in favor of Waterfront Concerts, but that the noise was affecting their quality of life.
Gray said after the meeting that he would continue a discussion with the council on how to address residents’ concerns.
Gray has outlined several options in the past, but budget issues likely would continue to hold them back. One would involve a wooden fence around the venue, similar to sound barriers placed along the highway, as well as trees planted to absorb some of the sound. Such groundwork was prevented during the recent Darlings Waterfront Pavilion upgrade by budget concerns. Those changes might not even resolve the problem in parts of the city, he said.
The only “magic bullet” would be an extended roof over the venue to hold in sound from the stage, Gray said, but the cost would be in the millions of dollars and it’s unlikely that either Waterfront Concerts or the city would be able to afford it in the near future given current budget situations.
“This is only the beginning, and that’s the point,” Gray said. “We have much bigger plans for the waterfront area,” but if the city wants to continue to grow and attract big shows and continued development, “we have to execute these events at a high level.”
Gray said it was unlikely that Waterfront Concerts could just tell performers to “turn it down” because some artists demand that they play with certain audio settings as part of their artistic expression.
City officials asked that anyone with a noise complaint in the future contact Bangor’s Parks and Recreation Department at 992-4490, rather than police or City Hall, so the city has a reliable record of the number of calls received.
Councilor Joe Baldacci argued that the city might be well served to hold further meetings with Waterfront Concerts, perhaps involving the city’s Quality of Life Committee, to see what solutions or concessions might be worked out in the near future.
“The bottom line is it’s just too noisy,” argued Gerald Olson of Court Street.