Sounding off


A little less noise there, a little less… noise,” Mr. Darling tells his kids toward the beginning of “Peter Pan,” the summer musical showing at the Prescott Park Arts Festival (PPAF) in Portsmouth.

Ironically, some South End residents have been making the same demand of the festival itself. As it did last year, the PPAF continues to field complaints about its events in the park, which include theater, concerts, movie screenings, and more. Strawbery Banke Museum, located right across the street from the park, has received similar objections to its outdoor events. Some area residents have brought their grievances straight to the city or the police.

Meanwhile, supporters of the festival and the museum have defended both institutions, noting that they are significant contributors to the city’s cultural vibrancy and to the local economy. Last year, following the cancellation of a movie at Prescott Park, the Facebook group Keep Portsmouth Loud formed with a mission to “protect arts, entertainment, and nightlife in Portsmouth from an active, vocal minority looking to shut it down.”

This is not a new issue, and it is not black and white. South End residents have a right to expect some peace and quiet in their lives. Just because they bought homes in the neighborhood of Prescott Park doesn’t mean they have to accept everything that goes on there. Their concerns must be taken into consideration — and they are. PPAF has taken measures to reduce the noise emanating into residential areas, and they are planning further actions next year, including moving the park’s stage so that noise will be projected out to the Piscataqua River instead of the surrounding neighborhood.

On the other hand, the neighbors should recognize the value of the festival and the museum to the greater community and be willing to compromise. They need to be reasonable. And, lately, the complaints have been less than reasonable.

On Sunday night, PPAF held its annual Folk Festival, featuring performances by Dustbowl Revival, The Stray Birds, Spirit Family Reunion, and headliner Martin Sexton. By the time Spirit Family Reunion took the stage, storm clouds were visible. Before long, low rumbles of thunder could be heard, and brilliant flashes of lightning were slicing through the sky.

As a safety precaution, festival staff unplugged all the amps and electrical equipment and announced the show would resume when the storm passed. Not to be deterred, the members of Spirit Family Reunion hopped off the stage with their stringed instruments and a couple of snare drums and played an acoustic set on the lawn. Guests gathered close around the band and danced and sang along, with occasional oohs and ahs at the distant lightning. Martin Sexton followed with an unplugged set in the drizzling rain until power was restored, and the show ended on schedule at 11 p.m.

A long stretch of the show was completely acoustic, unplugged, unamplified. And yet people complained. They called the police. They contacted city officials to voice their displeasure. The music was not loud, so it must have been the noise of the audience itself that upset the complainers, the shouts of joy, the hoots and hollers, the exuberant applause. It was the sound of people enjoying themselves — enjoying a family-friendly show in an alcohol-free environment in a public park.

The Folk Festival was a memorable show among many in Prescott Park’s history, and it’s difficult to feel much sympathy for those who tried to spoil it by calling the police.

Just a few weeks earlier, an event at Strawbery Banke had drawn several written complaints. The event was Portsmouth Taste of the Nation, which raised $120,000 to help feed hungry children. There was live music, and it was reportedly loud — a couple of complainers said their entire homes were reverberating with noise. But it was over by 10 p.m., and it was for a worthy cause.

The noise from both of these recent events, as well as others that have triggered complaints, are no doubt annoying to some nearby residents. But those who devote their energy to halting a magical acoustic show or a successful fundraiser for hungry children should rethink their priorities, and reconsider what battles are worth fighting.

Portsmouth must continue to have a civil discourse about noise issues, and people on both sides of the issue must be willing to make concessions. Without the Prescott Park Arts Festival, Strawbery Banke Museum, and many other noise-making organizations, Portsmouth would not be such a desirable place to live, for anyone. We hope Portsmouth’s elected officials remember that, too. Surely we can all be constructive in our approach to dealing with the noise.

— The Sound editorial board