Outdoor music, with reasonable rules


To the Editor:

On a steamy mid-August, Sunday afternoon, Oak Bluffs Harbor was buzzing with people enjoying the harbor’s festive atmosphere. Restaurants and shops were teeming with patrons. It was a typical busy weekend on the harbor. I was playing with my band that afternoon at the Sandbar, where we have enjoyed a steady Sunday afternoon gig from 4 to 7 pm for the past six or seven years. The Sandbar was filled with people of all ages, even a few toddlers danced around as their families enjoyed a late lunch and the afternoon’s free entertainment.

That day was particularly buzzing, as Obama’s press corps was on the upper deck of the restaurant next door, now called Lobsterville. Enjoying their meals and drinks, they leaned against the upper railing, clapping and cheering after each song, reveling in the free, live music at the Sandbar next door. My teenage daughter sang a few songs with my band that afternoon, and to our surprise the next morning we heard all about it on CNN.

When Bill Burton, press secretary for Obama was asked, why does Obama like to visit Martha’s Vineyard? Among the other reasons he gave, he ended his answer with,”If you’re lucky and you go down to the Sandbar on a Sunday afternoon, Charlotte is singing.”

The full quote can be found here: www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/briefing-white-house-deputy-press-secretary-bill-burton-82409

I am describing this scene not to brag about my kids but to illustrate that live music on the harbor and throughout the town is a huge part of what makes Oak Bluffs what it is. Oak Bluffs is the town where summer visitors and year-round residents go for entertainment.

I attended the Oak Bluffs selectmen’s meeting this past Tuesday night and learned that outdoor amplified music is now banned in the town of Oak Bluffs, and more permanent by-laws are being written to keep it that way. I hope the selectmen and Oak Bluffs business owners are able to work together to come up with a more reasonable solution, hopefully, in time for the press secretary’s visit this August so he can head down to the Sandbar for some more free, live music.

Why not just play without amplification you ask? The musicians at the Oak Bluffs Tabernacle feel the same need to amplify their instruments at their regular concerts as the musicians who play outdoors on the harbor. As a musician, I understand this. I can’t strum an acoustic guitar’s strings louder than a boat’s idling motor, a jet ski, or the chatter and din of the hundreds of patrons the Oak Bluffs harbor can expect on a busy summer weekend.

I do understand noise is an issue: what might be acceptable for one person may be annoying to someone else. However, a complete ban on outside, amplified, live music does not completely address the issue at hand. Imagine the racket that a dozen trumpets and a few drummers playing acoustically could potentially make compared to that of an acoustic guitar player/singer plugged into a speaker, playing at a reasonable level.

A complete ban on outdoor, amplified music puts the Oak Bluffs Tabernacle Concerts (a longstanding tradition in our community) in jeopardy, as they rely on amplification for their instruments for their regularly scheduled concerts. The Featherstone gallery’s Musical Mondays series, which is a well-loved family event, would also be affected by a complete ban on outdoor, amplified music. It’s not the amplification that is the problem, it’s who has their hand on the volume knob.

The real issue here is that everyone needs to be considerate with regard to noise and its volume. At the selectmen’s meeting on Tuesday, many of the businesses on the harbor expressed their frustration that still to this day there have never been any concrete guidelines for what is acceptable and what is not regarding the volume of live outdoor entertainment in Oak Bluffs. I also came to understand that there is currently no system in place for tracking and logging complaints or imposing fines on offenders. Without some guidelines or systems in place, there is not much the police can do to help someone who complains, not much the courts can do about punishing repeat offenders, and there are no rules for the businesses and musicians to diligently adhere to.

Many other communities are working to creatively solve this very issue. Three years ago in Lake Worth, Florida, they adopted a policy in which the local police were able to enforce the town’s new decibel level ordinances with the use of inexpensive DB meters. (About $40-$60 apiece).

“The ordinances work well; if the band breaks them they don’t get paid; if the club breaks them they get fined, that creates an incentive to get it right.” says Jon Zeeman, musician and seasonal Vineyard resident.

Here’s more on Lake Worth’s solution:www.palmbeachpost.com/news/lake-worth-to-test-bars-for-decibel-levels-35444.html

I believe with reasonable ending times, some concrete volume guidelines to follow, and rules in place to appropriately punish offenders, we can all simultaneously be entertained, conduct our businesses, and enjoy a peaceful day at our homes.

Thanks for your consideration.

Mike Benjamin