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Nov 12, 2019 4:57 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Musicians Plead Again With Town Not To Discourage Live Music

Musicians and business owners asked the Town Board to keep the restriction on music permits to the minimum necessary.  Michael Wright
Nov 20, 2019 8:55 AM

Nancy Atlas beseeched the East Hampton Town Board on Tuesday morning as the board began reviewing new considerations for its live music code: “We are slowly and methodically killing the essence of this town — do not let us become Westhampton.”

Ms. Atlas, who has been the whip of a community of musicians that fears more onerous rules will rob them of venues looking for live performances, pleaded with the board to trim the criteria for a bar or restaurant being put in danger of losing its town-issued music permit, so as not to stress their owners to the point of not wanting to be bothered with live music at all.

“The real aspect of this is that you have a business community in the arts literally working under duress,” she said. “A lot of places don’t want live music, because they don’t want to jeopardize anything else.”

The Montauk band leader had led a successful charge to derail the original version of the law last spring, and on Tuesday again brought a platoon of musicians and venue owners to drive home their point.

The town’s own Business Advisory Committee presented the Town Board on Tuesday with a half dozen of its own suggestions for new guidelines to considering whether a business should be allowed to continue hosting live music.

Foremost among them was that a permit should be considered for revocation only if a venue received and was found guilty of three or more violations of noise codes in a single season.

The law introduced last spring had given the town the right to revoke a permit after just two convictions for violations of almost any town building or safety codes over a three-year period. Musicians had said that rule would make it nearly impossible for professional musicians to remain in the community.

Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc defended the need for some retooling of the music law, to address recurring issues at some venues.

“Pretty much everyone is adhering to the rules, but we do have some issues that are causing public safety concerns,” he said. “We have a responsibility to make sure people are safe and that other people’s rights are respected. It’s always about finding that sweet spot.”

Some board members said that other violations like overcrowding and fire safety code issues should remain as criteria for revocation, as a “hammer” with which the town could force compliance. Others said that the regular course of fines and threats to other legal approvals for a business would suffice to steer owners to remedy violations, and that the right to host live music should be judged only on how that particular service is handled.

“Overcrowding is the biggest temptation for an operator,” said Councilman Jeff Bragman. “Eliminating it is leaving the door open to club owners self-policing. I don’t give myself a speeding ticket. Wall Street didn’t do a very good job at self-policing. Boeing didn’t do a very good job at self-policing.”

Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc agreed, saying that overcrowding should be an easy violation for business owners to avoid through due diligence.

Venue owners and musicians said the board should be finding ways to encourage more live music, not threatening to take it away from some.

“Music brings smiles to people’s faces,” said Lynn Calvo, owner of Lynn’s Hula Hut in Montauk, who said that the live music performances she hosts at her tiny tiki bar are the main draw to her bar. “When people are paying a lot of money to come to a resort town, they want to be entertained.”

Ms. Calvo and others said that the town should even be looking to loosen some of the restrictions on live music, by revisiting noise decibel limits — which have long been an issue of contention from musicians who say the current limits are unnecessarily low — and curfews. She said 10 p.m. would be a more appropriate cut-off time in the summer months, when it doesn’t get dark until 9 p.m. and people often work until after 7 p.m.

The board said it would post the new drafts of the legislation on the town’s website and hold another discussion of it at a future work session prior to formally introducing new amendments.

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