Close readers of our letters section — or even casual readers at this point – will have noticed the debate raging among letter-writers over the noise levels at Merriweather Post Pavilion.
On the one hand, some folks who live near the outdoor concert venue, located in the heart of Columbia, say the unavoidable, unwelcome noise from concerts they hear in their homes on many summer evenings turns their lives into nightmares, robbing them of their peace and quiet.
On the other hand, other folks point out that Merriweather has been in Columbia since 1967, is a nationally known concert venue that predates just about anyone living nearby, so those who chose to live nearby have only themselves to blame for whatever noise they hear. Moreover, this group says, the sounds of Merriweather music are considered a blessing and a boon by many who hear it.
We can understand how someone sitting on her backyard deck on a summer evening might be less than enthusiastic to hear the sounds of, say, Def Leppard — which they will when the heavy metal band plays Merriweather next month. Still, we agree with the latter group on this issue.
You can't choose to live near a tot lot in Columbia and not expect to hear the playful screaming and laughter of youngsters. You can't choose to live near a church and not expect to hear church bells ringing and see extra traffic on your road on a Sunday morning. And you can't choose to live near an outdoor concert venue and not expect to hear occasionally the sounds of their concerts.
Jean Parker, Merriweather's general manager, said the venue is sensitive to neighborhood noise concerns, ending its concerts by 11 p.m. and working to stay within the decibel levels allowed under state and county law. "If there is a sound issue, we speak directly to the artist's production manager to work with us to control the levels," she wrote in an emailed response to questions. "While the artist has artistic control over their performance, most are responsive to keeping their levels within the ... limits."
She said noise complaints, while still registered, have dropped over the years, as downtown Columbia has been developed and the added buildings help mitigate the sounds from Merriweather and improved technology makes it easier to confine them.
The vast majority of comments from neighbors, Parker said, are favorable.
At this point, it's impossible to imagine Columbia without Merriweather Post Pavilion. It has come to define the community for many — define it and enrich it.
Certainly Parker and her staff should do everything possible to control noise levels without harming the integrity of the shows. But the shows should — indeed, they must — go on.