On May 2, community awareness began to grow through Facebook about a newly imposed Entertainment Application that would be required by the Frederick County Liquor Board (FCLB). The new application requires the approval of the FCLB two weeks prior to all entertainment events and contains some policy-speak that comes across as vague and can be easily misinterpreted as impinging on the livelihood of local businesses and musicians. Naturally, a lot of chatter was generated in just three days amongst our vibrant local music community and businesses that support local music every week. The primary questions were:
- Why does the FCLB have the right to approve or not approve entertainment?
- Why is this new application being put in place anyway? Aren’t things working just fine already?
- How are businesses going to deal with the massive amount of paperwork that would be generated from shows scheduled each week?
- How is this requirement going to affect the willingness of local businesses to host live entertainment?
- Would performances scheduled day of, open mics, or band substitutions not be allowed anymore?
- What the heck does the statement “Compatibility of the entertainment with the neighborhood” mean? Is the FCLB trying to control which genres of music are allowed to be performed?
By the morning of Monday, May 5, an ipetitions.com petition to freeze the Entertainment Application policy had 131 signatures (it’s now up to 163 for good measure, I guess). In person at Winchester Hall in downtown Frederick, a group of at least 20 community members representing local music fans, businesses such as Café Nola, Bentz Street Raw Bar, and Old Town, and musicians from local bands Heavy Lights, Signs Point East, The Knolly Moles, and Ghost Hotel were ready to attend the public FCLB meeting where the new Entertainment Application was to be discussed to voice their concerns. The FCLB was well aware of the community’s intent and concerns through sharing of a Facebook Event page where many had ranted, raved, and speculated on the unknown facts about the new Entertainment Application. The FCLB was expecting the crowd Monday morning and acknowledged the community presence at the start of the meeting, prefacing the discussion with a lengthy testimonial about how the board members whole-heartedly support local music based on personal experiences and how the new Entertainment Application was largely written to better regulate one-time large events, but it needed to also include regular local entertainment for consistency. The Frederick News Post article and the recorded video from the Mayor and Board of Alderman Meeting (III. Discussion Regarding Restaurants with Entertainment.) on Jan 15 gives the best insight to the reasoning behind the new Entertainment Application and policy enforcement. The executive summary from the March 12 2014 Mayor and Board of Alderman meeting is also a helpful resource, stating positive and negative effects on businesses.
Ryan Nicholson of the local band Heavy Lights was the first community-appointed person to speak. Nicholson brought up the key points of wanting to know what jurisdiction the FCLB had to regulate entertainment, how a seemingly discriminatory statement such as “compatibility with neighborhood” could be included in a policy, and suggested significant re-wording of the Entertainment Application and policy after hearing the FCLB’s intent to primarily regulate large or one-time events. The FCLB addressed the first concern by stating that they have an interest in public safety and how people consume alcohol and while alcohol and live entertainment are not necessarily dependent on each other (as Nicholson also pointed out), it does effect when people stop drinking at the end of the night. For instance, the current live entertainment cut off is 2 a.m., but all patrons and drinks must be cleared from the bar by that time as well. That means venues must have enough time to get everybody out of the bar and drinks cleared prior to 2 a.m. That said, a band is often still playing at “last call” and patrons tend to order one last drink at that time, meaning they have to quickly consume said drink. That can lead to public safety concerns such as drunk driving, which is clearly under the FCLB’s responsibilities. To address Nicholson’s second point about “compatibility”, the FCLB responded that it was actually a reference to a Zoning Board policy and it meant that an event must be within a zoning district compatible with entertainment use. Other statements in the Entertainment Application also reference the State Of Maryland Alcoholic Beverages Regulations. The most significant outcome of the meeting which spoke to Nicholson’s third point, was that the FCLB agreed to work with the community to revise the wording of the Entertainment Application and policy to better protect the interests of the local businesses and career musicians.
Several other community members spoke, especially business owners concerned with how the application would be filled out for regular recurring events. The compromises here seemed to be that business with current liquor licenses could submit a yearly form with more general detail such as “music on these days, between these hours” and if a band’s canceled or last minute shows were added, it wouldn’t require modification or submittal of another application. The FCLB did highly advise that business start using 1:30 a.m. as the absolute all-liquor-cleared cut-off, even though it’s not in regulation yet. Delegate Kelly Schulz also showed up on the community’s behalf and reiterated the FCLB’s intent to improve public safety.
Community members walked away feeling much more at ease about the Entertainment Application and policy enforcement. However many are still keeping a watchful eye on upcoming meetings to make sure the verbiage in the document gets changed to better represent the operation and protect the livelihood of local businesses that offer live entertainment. The FCLB appreciated the community involvement and we here at Bucket of Rock applaud the way the community came together to support our thriving local music scene!