With Merriweather Post Pavilion's first concert of the season slated for the end of April, Howard Hughes officials are exploring new sound monitoring systems to prevent a repeat of last year's noise level complaints sparked by the 2015 Sweet Life Festival.
Through a joint development agreement with Howard Hughes, the Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission is involved with Merriweather's renovations and its operator's efforts to develop a new monitoring system for improved sound control, according to the commission's executive director, Ian Kennedy.
"We're putting in controls not only to better control the sound, but also using technology to better pinpoint the direction the sound goes from the stage — from the speakers to the seating areas — to try to see what they can do to best contain it within site," Kennedy said. "There are also some controls that the operator has that can override the controls of the performer who's using the sound system and bring it back into compliance."
Last May, community complaints spiked when residents living as far away as Ellicott City reported hearing DJ Calvin Harris' main stage performance into the late evening during a Merriweather concert. Columbia residents' complaints ranged from reports of shaking windowpanes to sleepless nights, which many said was a clear violation of the state's 2013 noise regulation legislation.
But with the new technology, Kennedy said operators can physically map out the direction of the sound; a level of control unavailable in previous years.
Kennedy added that Merriweather is dedicated to being "a good neighbor," which Oakland Mills Village Board co-chair Bill McCormack said he finds admirable. McCormack said Merriweather's understanding of the sensitive issue should result in a positive outcome for the community.
"Merriweather is a major asset to the community. I've been there a lot myself," McCormack said. "They want people to come and have a good time. A lot of folks come to Columbia from many different places to hear the concerts. … Hopefully [the community] won't have any worries or concerns" this year.
Meanwhile, phase two of venue renovations is now well underway, according to Brad Canfield, Merriweather's vice president of operations, , as stage house renovations wrap up and backstage developments continue.
Three one-year renovation plans have been divided into each off-season. Renovations began in 2015 with the completion of the west plaza last summer and included a new box office, concession stands, merchandise area and restrooms.
Canfield said the stage house will be ready for the venue's first show April 29 and 30, which will feature several artists in a two-day M3 Rock Festival.
Canfield said the stage house was completely gutted and replaced with " "all new electric, a new stage and a completely new rigging platform, which is twice the size of the old one. It has all of the bells and whistles needed for current productions."
The backstage building will open this summer, and performing artists will be using temporary facilities, which they have done for the venue's passed 48 seasons, he said.
Engineers are also reviewing plans to raise the pavilion's roof about 20 feet, Canfield said, to accommodate new technology, performances and viewing enhancement. While the roof over the stage house now stands at 70 feet, Canfield said the end result will also improve sound issues.
"We think we're going to get an improvement because the speakers will be pointing down as opposed to straight across the lawn," Canfield said.
The roof raising construction is tentatively planned for the 2016 offseason.