It’s always distressing to see the problems addressed in my thesis playing out in real-time within our music community. One incident in particular hit me hard – the shutting down of the James Street Ballroom during the Deutschtown Music Festival on July 9, 2016.
During the weekend of July 8 and 9th, Pittsburgh held its fourth annual Deutschtown Music Festival. For local residents and members of the Pittsburgh music community, this weekend holds a special place in our hearts. For two days, the North Side of Pittsburgh is taken over by incredible local music, showcasing the best talent in the city and our thriving music scene.
However, one situation nearly put a damper on the entire event. On Saturday, the James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy was shut down by the PLCB due to a noise complaint from a nearby resident.
In short, the PLCB threatened to permanently shut down the ballroom, and arrest management at the establishment (for a more thorough analysis of the incident, click here.)
The situation created a huge uproar within the local music scene and brought city-wide attention. Members from all corners of the scene, from musicians to booking agents to production company owners, had harsh words for the action taken by the PLCB.
On my end, this situation highlighted the huge hypocrisy that underlines action taken against music in the city.
Unlike some of the spaces and venues I am studying, the James Street Ballroom is a completely legitimate venue – it has its codes, it has permits and has showcased 300+ person shows with national headliners for years.
By citing antiquated laws, a neighbor with a personal vendetta has now almost completely shut down a legendary music venue.
Now, I’m not someone who wants to preference the needs of music venues over other residents of an area. For example, the wrong action to take is to completely ignore the concerns of residents when creating spaces for live music. This can only exacerbate these situations and further create conflicts between members of music communities and larger communities at a whole.
Yet local law enforcement and city authorities must have a way of discerning between legitimate concerns and those that hide behind legal loopholes and rhetoric. In the case of James Street, one specific space was shut down during a neighborhood-wide music festival, with no complaints given against any of the other significantly louder outdoor stages.
But there is a silver lining to this whole debacle. One, it really demonstrates why my thesis matters, especially in a time when the Pittsburgh music scene is growing. By understanding how neighborhood changes are affecting the local music scene, residents and local music venue owners can work together to create a more amicable scene.
Second, and more importantly, the situation highlights just how strong our community is. Hundreds of people have come together to support James Street in their time of need. A recent Indiegogo campaign to help the historic venue hit its goal 22 days before the deadline, with money still being raised. A plethora of fundraising events have been planned in order to help the management pay for the high soundproofing needed to get the ballroom functioning again. Members of the community have united and even created the #SaveJamesStreet hashtag to unify the efforts and create more traction on social media.
The incident at James Street exemplifies how even the most established music venues can be threatened, but also demonstrates just how powerful a helping community in action can be in times of need.