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Silence of the bands: Could proposed noise ordinance changes cripple Charlotte's music scene? 

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When someone suggested that hours be used to limit outdoor amplified live music in all areas of the city, perhaps ending at 9 or 10 p.m., Kinsey commented that 10 p.m. is "awfully late at night."

Impact

For argument's sake, let's say the initial proposal makes it to City Council and is approved. If you enjoy going out to a place such as Philosopher's Stone Tavern, Revolution Pizza or any place that has live, outdoor amplified music, the only thing you might hear when you dine there is the crowd and traffic. There's no applying for a permit, unless it's part of a festival. If a restaurant or bar within 400 feet of a residential zoned area wants music on the patio, it's likely going to have to be acoustic and unplugged.

It's not a future that appeals to many involved in the local music scene, either. Local musicians are just as likely to perform inside a venue as they are on a patio in order to build a fan base and earn a living. Customers often enjoy a drink or meal on a patio where live music adds to the flavor of the day. Businesses welcome the entertainment form as a way to draw customers in, not as an effort to bother neighbors. Committee chairman Patrick Cannon noted that changing the noise ordinance could have an economic impact on already existing businesses.

An area group called Save Charlotte Music — made up of restaurant and bar owners, musicians and music fans — has organized a Facebook page to gather support in opposing the proposed noise ordinance changes. So far, the group has started an online petition and held a few meetings to discuss possible changes that would work better for all of those involved. As McCarley said to the committee, the ideas have "sparked a bonfire."

"Did we expect this kind of response? No. Are we surprised in hindsight? No," said Hagemann during a recent phone call. "I now understand the reaction and the reasons for it. There are clearly battle lines being drawn in Elizabeth. There are people that are angry, accusatory or think we have motives for what we're trying to do. We want to hear from everyone, but it's fascinating to hear the conclusions that people have come to. Mac and I didn't wake up one day and say, 'Let's see if we can piss off the musicians.'"

Hagemann noted that a variety of neighborhood leaders have spoken out in Elizabeth and have said live outdoor music is a problem there. Hagemann added that while restaurant owners and neighborhood leaders were contacted for "homework," they failed to contact musicians or go into NoDa when researching the proposed changes.

While many residents of areas like NoDa have moved there to be closer to the arts scene, the problem in the Elizabeth neighborhood is that the city grew up around them. Hagemann noted that one couple in their late 80s has been living near 7th Street for roughly 45 years, and the bars and restaurants are a new addition.

"We've been there for six years this coming May," Philosopher's Stone Tavern owner Josh Settle said by phone. "I can't say that I didn't see this coming. This is something that's been building up for a while in this town, long before I was there."

According to police statistics, there were approximately 100 noise complaints in the Elizabeth area last year — though it doesn't say if it was for music, dogs or other types of noise. There were roughly 300 complaints in the Uptown area and other areas ranged from 50 to 95.

Settle said that during a recent Sunday, both the Philosopher's Stone and Kennedy's had live, outdoor, amplified music and neither location received a complaint. On Tuesday nights, there is usually a solo acoustic performer outdoors at the P-Stone; on Thursdays on the weekends they have local bands perform. "The whole thing stems from — three years ago I had a loud Stonefest, and they got ticked off," Settle said. "Now, if they see speakers set up outside, they assume the worst. When we get complaints, it's the same four people."

The next Stonefest is planned for May 14 — if they can have it. "We shut down by 11 [p.m.] at the latest, and I move the last two bands inside to the back bar," Settle said, noting he doesn't have a problem with the current ordinance. "I think Patsy wants to make sure that there's not another Stonefest, I know that much. Right after the last Stonefest, the police did a 30-day assessment and everything came back within complete compliance. We're doing everything by the book and within the law and getting the permits when we need them. What more can I do?"

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