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The Local Original: The noise crackdown begins again

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Let's Rock Sarasota at the Naturally Sarasota Festival. (Photo courtesy sarasotamusicscene.com)

If there's one thing I've become well-known for around town aside from writing about local bands, it is my periodic coverage of Sarasota's endless crackdown on outdoor live entertainment, and the affect it has on the music scene. While I've often written about the city and county's various sound restrictions, generally and broadly referred to as Sarasota's “Noise Ordinances,” I've more recently come to the realization that the laws aren't necessarily the cause of the problem. After all, if nobody sought to enact them, they would rarely be enforced. The real issue stems from complaints, which I hadn't encountered much lately. That is, until this month.

As area roads have started to fill up with returning snowbirds in recent weeks, so have the numerous condo buildings scattered throughout downtown and Siesta Key. And with the incoming season arrives the inevitable corresponding uptick in noise complaints. The first came in just before 9 p.m. during a private Halloween party I was attending north of Siesta Village. The second occurred around the same time the following evening, as the Psychotropic Band was forced to end its set at Blasé Cafe early after an anonymous call to police from a Terrace East condo tower.

Bard and Mustache at the Naturally sarasota Festival. (Photo courtesy sarasotamusicscene.com)

This past Saturday, I played my debut Songwriter Night at Star Keeper Cafe alongside Rick Quimby and Sara Nelms. The monthly events have quickly gained popularity with music lovers looking to experience local artists' original creations in an intimate setting with a pleasant, charming outdoor ambiance. At about 8:30 p.m., Star Keeper owner John Snyder was approached by a Rivo resident who said he would be calling the police if the music wasn't shut down immediately. “I said, 'Tell them to bring a noise meter' ” joked Snyder. “I've been doing this for a year and that was my first complaint.”

Natural Awakenings had been granted a permit to have bands play in Five Points Park on Saturday, as an accompaniment to the Sarasota Naturally festival. The permit went until 4 p.m. The cops were there — complaint in tow — at 4:01.

Don't get me wrong. After three years of delving deeply into this city's musical history, I'm under no illusions that this constant tug of war will be coming to an end. The battle has gone on for over two decades and will continue as long as condos sit next to outdoor venues.

County Commissioner Jon Thaxton

Sarasota is most likely the only city with an annual local music event (Noise Ordinance) named after laws that repress live music. Two Facebook groups, ReWrite the Sarasota Noise Ordinance and Change The Sarasota Noise Ordinance, have continued the conversation for years to no avail. I actually sat down for lunch with County Commissioner Jon Thaxton back in August to discuss the possibilities of reaching common ground on these issues. I left that meeting with little hope.

As Thanksgiving approaches, all I can ask is that people take a few moments to reflect on what we have and why we live here. Our unique artistic community is truly beginning to thrive and I hope that those who appreciate our creative vibrancy can show their thanks by allowing it to grow. I also hope they can realize the thanks they will receive from those of us seeking to foster this growth.

The fact is healthy cities make noise, and many of the activities that add to our cultural development take place after 10 p.m. — preferably under the starlit skies of a warm Florida evening. This area is blessed with an abundance of world-class musicians and talented young bands that are desperately trying to earn a living doing what they love. And the businesses that support them are equally striving to survive through what has been a tough recent economic climate. A little tolerance and understanding can go a long way.

Last modified: November 17, 2011
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