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A noise-life balance for Bangor’s Waterfront Concerts

Members of the Barenaked Ladies held a children's concert right after the doors opened at the Darling's Waterfront Pavilion Sunday evening in Bangor.  They sang songs about erasers, allergies and vegetables just to mention a few.
Members of the Barenaked Ladies held a children's concert right after the doors opened at the Darling's Waterfront Pavilion Sunday evening in Bangor. They sang songs about erasers, allergies and vegetables just to mention a few. Buy Photo
Posted July 24, 2013, at 10:45 a.m.
Last modified July 24, 2013, at 7:35 p.m.

When you have had as much growth as Bangor has had in the past few years, there are bound to be some growing pains. These pains have recently manifested themselves as complaints about concert noise.

As a city councilor, I receive complaints after nearly every show, but there were a particularly large number of them after the Mayhem Festival last week. Undoubtedly this concert was louder than some others, it brought a style of music to Bangor with which many people are unfamiliar, and it took people by surprise by beginning during the daytime.

What was troubling to me was to see how quickly we divided ourselves as a community around the question of concert noise. I received messages and read posts on social media in which people were hoping that the lightning storm that night would electrocute the stage.

On top of that there were more than one disparaging comment about the concert attendees themselves, but I believe there were fewer arrests and fewer incidents during the Mayhem Festival than there have been at numerous other events on the Waterfront.

I have also seen and read messages describing the people complaining about the noise as “morons,” “idiots” and even worse. Some people would rather see the folks who have complained be shipped off to Maine’s rural outposts than come to a fair solution. I am sure if some of these supporters had to wake up early or were struggling with a baby who could not fall asleep their perspective would be different, too.

Maybe it was the heat last week or maybe we as a society are just so programmed to fall into opposing camps that at the first sniff of controversy the knives came out.

I am going to say something that is not that common in politics today: I am going to tell the truth. The city of Bangor is not going to shut down Waterfront Concerts, and a solution is not going to be found overnight. I could give some excuse about how the concert noise has been within the range of what the DEP considers to be prudent, which is true, but really what it comes down to is that the economic impact of the concerts has just been too great to disrupt.

Not only has more than $30 million been pumped into the economy since the concerts began, but the shows are making Bangor the type of place where young people want to live. As the oldest state in the country by average age and with a weak economy, we simply cannot afford not to have these performances.

So why hold a public meeting accepting comment from citizens concerned about the noise? Because the complaints matter too, and they are completely fair. While we cannot solve anything overnight and while it is unlikely that a solution even exists that will satisfy everyone, we learn a great deal by listening to people.

Waterfront Concerts is only at the beginning of its development in Bangor. As it grows, we want to be sure that the growth does not happen at the expense of the things that make Bangor truly special, including the quality of life, work-life balance and natural environment. Changes we made last year with the cooperation and support of Waterfront Concerts have already made a positive difference both to the surrounding neighborhoods and concertgoers, and I believe further improvements can be made.

In the end, the people who are wildly supportive of the concerts and the people who are concerned about the noise both have legitimate concerns. It is okay for people who disagree to have different ideas and both be right at the same time. This is why we held the public meeting Monday night and why the conversations are only just beginning.

In order to move our city forward on this issue and countless others, it will take input and perspective from a wide range of people whether their favorite show this summer was Rob Zombie, Phish or Darius Rucker. I am really looking forward to these conversations as long as people remember that we live in a society and, at times, that requires compromise.

Ben Sprague is a member of the Bangor City Council. He posts regular updates on City Council proceedings at www.facebook.com/benspraguebangor.

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