Musicians being heard on noise rules

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A lot of extraordinary things are happening in Fredericksburg, from the stunning growth of wineries, eateries and music venues, to the spectacular development of the local “historical tourism” industry.

Something less noticeable, but just as remarkable has been happening behind the scenes over the last year. We are resolving the heated controversy over live music in Fredericksburg through dialogue and civic participation. And the city’s government is proving that when people speak up, they listen.

A year and a half ago, at least one city official was entertaining the idea of “banning outdoor amplified live music” on Main Street. And at a city council meeting last summer, one citizen who was in favor of this ban said that she was, “disappointed that we were even still talking about this.” She said that the River Walk in San Antonio had banned outdoor amplified live music (it hadn’t) and so should Main Street. 

Outdoor live music is one of the reasons people flock to the River Walk and Main Street, alike.
Early last year, city leadership cut short a live music analysis Police Chief Wetz was conducting, had a new ordinance swiftly drafted, and was preparing rapidly for a vote. It looked like the writing was on the wall.

But then, at a particularly heated Sept.  6 council meeting, two council members announced that they were not ready to vote on this ordinance “any time soon,” and everything started to change.
The long-promised live music committee was soon formed and perhaps most importantly, the unnecessary sense of urgency that some city leaders were promoting abated.

This “putting on the brakes” served at least two important purposes — it provided time for tempers to cool and for the media attention to die down. And it also allowed Chief Wetz and the live music committee to conduct research and collect data.

I think this is a remarkable turnaround and it is an example of why Fredericksburg is doing so well. There is a thoughtful, engaged civic body here, where people are willing to write to city officials, to attend city council meetings and to serve on committees. 

And the people who served on the live music committee deserve a lot of credit for their work, as does Chief Wetz. City leaders also deserve credit for slowing things down and making sure they get this right.

I don’t mean to paint too rosy of a picture here. There were regrettable things that occurred on social media. The Coop was a great new music venue that didn’t survive the controversy and “banning outdoor amplified music” should never have been part of the conversation at all.

Also, I don’t know if the sound ordinance that was passed last week will be a good one. I’ve certainly got concerns about some of the language in it, but it’s much better than the one that almost passed last year. 

And the new law includes a sunset clause, so it will be re-evaluated in one year’s time. This tells me that cooler heads have prevailed on both sides and we are going to figure this thing out in a way that protects the thriving live music scene but also helps preserve Fredericksburg’s “small town” feel.

The future is bright for Fredericksburg and for the live music scene here — futures that I believe are closely intertwined.