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Play music in Sedona and you could go to jail.

That’s the message the city of Sedona appears to be sending to its artists, many of whom moved here to support the local art scene. They believed Sedona’s vision statement that it is a “city animated by the arts.”

News Editor Christopher Fox GrahamThe city states a venue or performer violates the sound ordinance if noise rises above 60 decibels at the edge of the venue’s property line. At that level, a loud conversation near a venue’s fence or perimeter could break the law. Until recently, if a nearby resident called and complained, an uniformed police officer would arrive at the venue with a decibel meter and check the levels. A second call could result in a citation.

Rather than respond to calls at the same venue every Friday and Saturday, the city recently threatened business owners and their hired acts with a new tactic: Ignore the city’s sound ordinance and just charge the venue or the musician with disorderly conduct under the state’s criminal code.

We all enjoy our peace and quiet, but arresting a band of musicians entertaining locals and tourists at a commercial space seems ridiculous. Disorderly conduct for live music in a commercial space is hard to prosecute, and judges often dismiss or reduce such cases to civil fines.

Complaints that end a performance cost the city money. Music brings people into local businesses and gets them to stay longer. Businesses make money from food and beverage sales. The city collects sales taxes from those purchases.

If a venue with 100 patrons closes its stage at 7 p.m. instead of 10 p.m. because of one phone call, it can lose thousands of dollars and the city loses hundreds in taxes. Residents go elsewhere or head home rather than enjoy the company of their neighbors.

Now residents have other options in other towns. For years, residents have complained that half the city of Sedona shuts down at 5 p.m. and the other half shuts down at 9 p.m. New venues are opening throughout the Verde Valley, and they offer late-night entertainment. They gladly offer spaces to musicians, some who may opt to not play music in Sedona. Their towns would also love the revenue those shows bring in via sales tax.

If the trend continues, tourists may opt to rent a room in elsewhere, do some day activities in Sedona, then enjoy the nightlife and spend their money eating and drinking in Old Town Cottonwood, Cornville, Clarkdale, Jerome and Camp Verde, all of which are stepping up marketing efforts and offering businesses incentives.

Last year, Camp Verde established an entertainment district where businesses can stay open later and be louder — generating more town revenue and taxes. Clarkdale is pursuing a similar course.

The Sedona City Council needs to revisit the sound ordinance and adapt it to the city’s changing demographics. The city should raise the decibel minimum on busy nights at commercial spaces. Keeping the limit at 10 p.m. is entirely reasonable and most musicians have no problem with ending then, as long as they can play a few hours without threat of prosecution or fines.

The ordinance could require venues to notify when live music is expected, or pay for an annual permit allowing louder music on certain nights. The ordinance could create exceptions for certain commercial areas, especially those that generate significant tax revenue. It could create an exception for live performers. It could look at creating an entertainment district.

There has to be a public debate between homeowners, musicians, venue owners and the city. Businesses have a financial interest in compromise but they need the discussion — the city should be willing to work with them and their hired acts.

A healthy art scene brings in tourists and brings out locals, which contributes to a stronger economy and a stronger community.


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  • TC

    Lets have a debate about stick in the mud residents that would propose arresting musicians or closing skate parks.....who are these people? (Or did the RRN just think those were some good provocative choices for their poll?) Have the resident who complain or make those extreme poll choices ever taken the time to actually go out and enjoy local music, support a local artist or stop by to appreciate the athletic talents of local skateboarders at the skate park? Its called a community people, not a retirement rest home/sanitarium. Put the remote down and be a part of your community. On the other hand, the music carries farther than one might think, and no one wants to hear virtually the exact same set week after week (year after year) from the local Wednesday night outdoors bands. Now there is a valid complaint worth a poll. But music and skateboarding are not crimes. They are essential components of a vibrant community. If you live close enough to these venues, you made a choice to live in the heart of that vibrant atmosphere, such as it is here in small Sedona. If the 'NOW' of Sedona is no longer to your liking, perhaps it is time to make personal choices beyond a poll selection. Sedona is changing, are you?

  • Jimmy Mack

    " How should the city deal with music venue noise complaints?"
    With that being said, don't "we the people" of Sedona make those decisions via voting, council meetings, etc.
    I understand that they are listed as "noise complaints" but I've never been called a noise maker but I have been called a musician. It would be a good point to get the language straightened out too.

  • Jimmy Mack

    Thank you Christopher Fox Graham.

  • Cyndy Hardy

    Supporters of live entertainment lost a lot by standing idle or divisive during past issues such as the sign ordinance, the scooter ordinance, the previous noise ordinance, affordable housing and the highway lights issue. The voting power needed to defeat this ordinance was virtually exported.

    Now, live performers are up against some residents who don't care about lost tax and sales revenue. They don't care if tourists and locals go elsewhere for entertainment. Some residents find the exodus a bonus because, to them, people who like that sort of entertainment are undesirable, anyway.

    On the other hand, live music has a greater impact on residences now than it used to have. About 15 years ago Sedona only had three main venues for live local entertainment. All three stages were indoors. Now the venues are everywhere.

    I don't see this going well for my musician friends. I hope I'm wrong. We will see if artists of other mediums get behind this. Will non-entertainment businesses and organizations band with the venues? Will musicians, themselves, concede some accountability? Can Sedona get together on this, or will the next layer of government have to step in, again, and split the baby?

  • Samantha Ruckman

    Your points about the city losing revenue are key. I spent the weekend researching this and found MANY completely empty places here in town on a Friday night. Maybe one of the choices of your poll should have been "Fine the people who call about the same location more than a few times." There seem to be a few bad apples in our current bunch. If they don't want to hear the music (which is not noise, btw), maybe it's time to move to a smaller town before they completely ruin this one.

  • Tommy Acosta

    Two weeks ago the police showed at the Green Light show at the Hoppy Grape Lounge in West Sedona slightly before 10 p.m. as my band played its last song. The police asked to speak to a representative of the band and I volunteered to do so. They were very polite and obviously not happy with what they had to do. I remember one of the officers saying that there is a state statute in place regulating decibel levels. This could complicate things.

  • Katrina

    I don't think the people of Sedona and city officials understand how much business the wedding and event industry brings to Sedona. A strict "noise" ordinance will certainly keep couples away from being married here. Weddings and events in Sedona are not a one day event. Most weddings bring in anywhere from 50-150 people who all stay at hotels, eat at restaurants, purchase art/souvenirs, hire local wedding professionals etc. etc. for multiple days with many many events taking place every weekend. I am all for being respectful of the level of sound coming from events, which most musicians, dj's, wedding planners and venues are sure to do already. If a strict "noise" restriction is put into place the city of Sedona will surly be biting the had that feeds it. It will definitely scare away many away from having their weddings or event in Sedona.

  • Dave Gold

    Why no option in the survey to arrest the complainer? For some strange reason residents of Sedona love art only as long as its quiet and it makes them money.

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