If music is the lifeblood of a community, East Hampton’s heart was beating hard Thursday evening, as musicians raised their voices in concern over proposed changes to the town’s music entertainment permits.
East Hampton began requiring music permits in bars, taverns and restaurants in 2007, but an update to the permit proposed this spring would have required the permit to be renewed annually instead of automatically, and would allow the town to revoke the permits from venues that have two violations of numerous sections of the town code within three years.
After hearing nearly three hours of comment from musicians and business owners at a public hearing before the town board on Thursday, March 21, the board tabled the proposal and pledged to revisit the changes with the help of the community.
Montauk musician Nancy Atlas spearheaded the outcry, urging musicians in Facebook posts to show up and make their voices heard. She also called a lawyer, and she told the board that, if passed, the proposed law would be in violation of musicians’ constitutional and due process rights.
In particular, she said she was concerned that the laundry list of potential sources of violations that could lead to revocation of music permits — from zoning to noise code to special events permits — would penalize musicians for problems they didn’t create.
“This feels really anti-Montauk,” said musician Lynn Blumenfeld, who goes by the stage name of Lynn Blue. “Everybody struggles to make a living. Montauk’s got crowds. You’re not going to get rid of the crowds.”
Musician Inda Eaton said she’s also concerned that a committee of code enforcement and fire marshal officials that would be responsible for hearing appeals for revocation of permits, not the town board.
“We know we elected you and we’re comfortable with that,” she told board members. “We don’t know what a committee would be.”
Ellen Dioguardi, who sells advertising for The Sag Harbor Express, said no one seems to care about the decibel level of the army of leaf blowers in her neighborhood, and yet musicians, who often volunteer their time to help raise money at benefits throughout the community, are being made the scapegoats in the proposed law.
Retired New York City firefighter Ralph Perricelli, who lost 10 firefighters from his firehouse on Sept. 11, 2001 and now plays in a band and works as a counselor to first responders, said the only thing that could comfort the survivors at that time was the concert Paul McCartney put together at Madison Square Garden.
“We should be talking about how are we going to have more arts and more live music,” he said. “Music is as much in our DNA as a fishing rod, a lobster roll, the lighthouse and the sand in Montauk.”
Musician Klyph Black said musicians on the South Fork are a special community that helps everyone out in times of need.
“It’s just making it harder for them to be here,” he said. “I understand things happen, but you have to take those things individually.”
Amy Duryea, who grew up working at her father’s fish market, Duryea’s, in Montauk, said the proposed law was akin to her punishing her son for hitting her daughter by telling him he couldn’t participate in band or chorus in school.
“Discrimination against performing arts is a real thing and there are laws against it,” she said.
Montauk Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Laraine Creegan said she’s been bombarded with angry and upset phone calls from business owners about the proposal.
“It seems to all of us that the current code is working fine. We could all be doing other things with our time right now,” she said. “Operating a business is not an easy thing to do. Every day, business owners are faced with more regulations and compliance issues.”
Springs Tavern co-owner Charlene DeSmet spelled out some of those burdens, which include spending thousands of dollars annually on venue fees from music licensing organizations like ASCAP and BMI that allow musicians to play copyrighted works. She also hires licensed security guards when the tavern has music on Friday nights.
“We made it into a really nice family place, but if we didn’t have music we wouldn’t exist,” she said.
Surfer and musician Tony Villar quoted Mark Twain: “When a politician makes a law it becomes a joke and when a politician makes a joke it becomes a law,” he said. “We should be making a law about people complaining about musicians.”
David Gruber said East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc, who is also a musician, had told him recently that there are 70 venues that have music permits in East Hampton, but only three of them had caused trouble.
“I see absolutely no reason to propose additional burdens on people who are compliant as a way to get at people who are not compliant,” he said.
“Can the town have a music festival to raise money for the beach in Montauk?” asked Anthony Sosinski. “The ocean right now is taking our beach away. Let’s be proactive as a town. Don’t chase musicians away. We need them.”
“I think we’ve had a really good opportunity to recognize the importance of music in our lives and music in our town,” Mr. Van Scoyoc told the crowd. “We had no intention of voting on this tonight and will certainly take up the issue again at a work session. At this point it’s very clear further engagement…without harming those who may be affected in a collateral way, is really important to do.”