BANGOR, Maine — A rock concert that drew thousands to the Bangor Waterfront raised the hackles of 124 Bangor-area residents who called police to say the noise was too loud.
Saturday’s all-day concert, Rise Above Fest, launched the 2014 Waterfront Concerts Series. According to Tanya Emery, director of community and economic development, nearly 70 percent of the complaints came from East Side residents, 10 percent from West Siders and the remainder from Brewer and Veazie. City staff and councilors also fielded a few emails from people upset by the noise.
In a packed City Council chamber on Monday night, six people stood up to urge the council to come up with some sort of answer.
“I see this as a problem about respect, respect for Bangor residents,” said Michael Alpert, a resident who has been outspoken about concert noise for more than a year. “This isn’t just a minor annoyance, this is interfering with people’s lives.”
Jim Bishop of Bangor called the concerts “sonic battering” and said he was concerned about potential negative health effects resulting from the sound.
Councilor Gibran Graham pointed out that there likely are more people who take issue with the noise levels but don’t call to complain.
The council has been reluctant to set an arbitrary limit on sound and argues it doesn’t have the appropriate data to determine a limit that could be worked into a future agreement with Waterfront Concerts. Every person’s definition of “too loud” is different.
The city spent Monday reviewing the sound data collected throughout the event at monitoring stations in Bangor, Brewer and at the mix table in the venue. The city is partnering with Acentech, a Boston-based audio consultant, which set up the stations and is helping the city weed through the hours of data collected during each concert and during stretches of a normal day.
But, according to sound specialists and the city, it’s not the overall noise that’s affecting people. The overall decibel level of the concert hasn’t exceeded Department of Environmental Protection regulations or levels agreed upon by the city and Waterfront Concerts.
“The core issue here is the low-frequency sounds,” Emery said. Those are the ones that rattle windows and shake your chest. The sounds tend to carry longer and are less likely to be stopped by obstacles such as buildings or trees. Those low-frequency sounds also haven’t been monitored until this season, and this is the first time the city has looked at them. Emery said the city will use this data to form potential restrictions on them.
This concert drew more complaints than any in the past, likely because it lasted all day, was the first of the year, and the nature of the music in its heavy use of bass and curse words shouted by performers, according to Emery. Even the lack of foliage on the trees likely contributed to louder-than-normal sound, she said. Looking at the data, the concert wasn’t any “louder,” in terms of a-weighted decibels, than past concerts.
Gray has said restrictions on sound level are largely determined by the contract between the promoters and the performers. Place too many restrictions on those contracts, and acts are likely to pass on the venue, he said. He also has argued that many complaints are based on “taste and tolerance,” and that he expects fewer complaints around country or lower-key performances than for longer shows or genres with more of a bass focus.
City officials plan to keep an eye on the sound data throughout the year and come up with a course of action to try to remediate the noise issues. Some councilors, including Graham and Pauline Civiello, argued that they should act sooner rather than later to prevent residents from losing out on their enjoyment of summer weather.
The city has been grappling with noise complaints from residents on and off since the popular concerts along the Penobscot River debuted in the summer of 2010. A study conducted by a University of Maine researcher found the series had pumped $30 million into the local economy in its first three years. An update to that economic study is in the works and being reviewed by peer researchers, concert promoter Alex Gray recently said.
In 2013, the concerts were performed on a stage that shifted from pointing toward Bangor’s West Side to pointing toward downtown. The city and Waterfront Concerts also upgraded the venue to include a slope to dull some of the sound. That change was made in part to address noise concerns from West Side residents. The complaints largely have shifted to other parts of the city.
Rise Above Fest wrapped up shortly before 11:30 p.m., which is the curfew for Friday or Saturday night shows under the city’s agreement with Waterfront Concerts, according to City Solicitor Norm Heitmann.
Country music superstar Tim McGraw is the next performer scheduled to hit the waterfront. That show is scheduled for Thursday, May 29.
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