The annual ruckus in Travis County over noise issues with Euphoria Music and Camping Festival seems to have hushed this year after commissioners voted Tuesday to allow artists to play later into the night than code normally permits.
The variance, which commissioners approved 4-0 with Margaret Gómez abstaining, will allow the festival to stay open until midnight on weeknights and 2 a.m. on weekends, one hour later than current regulations allow. The approval is provisional until about two weeks before the event, when commissioners will have an opportunity to revisit it.
The commissioners’ blessing was one of the last hoops organizers had to jump through to move full steam ahead in planning for the festival, scheduled for April 6-9.
The issue has bred controversy in the past and is the crux of an ongoing lawsuit between the concert promoters and the county. The organizers and neighbors who live near the festival site, at Carson Creek Ranch by Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, have butted heads, with many neighbors complaining about noise.
In September 2015, Euphoria organizers sued the county, saying it did not have the authority to restrict the hours of operation for events. A trial court judge in December 2015 ruled that the court did not have the jurisdiction to settle the matter, but the festival group is appealing the decision in the 3rd Court of Appeals, said Sherine Thomas, director of the county attorney’s civil litigation division. An appellate decision has not been made.
Despite aggravations in past years, Gómez, in whose precinct the festival is held, said she had not received any complaints other than one letter from Brenton Johnson, the owner of Johnson’s Backyard Garden, who lives near the festival grounds and has had issues with the event’s noise in the past.
“Every year this festival disrupts my right to quiet enjoyment of my property,” Johnson wrote in a Dec. 20 letter that County Judge Sarah Eckhardt read in court Tuesday. “This festival plays a lot of music that is not only very loud but includes a large amount of low frequency sounds, bass. … It’s not the noise per se, it’s the constant throbbing; it’s like Chinese water torture.”
Johnson suggested commissioners regulate sound frequency, require a certain type of speaker that puts controls on sound travel or require organizers to submit a sound impact plan, as is required in the city of Austin.
“Last year the setup of the festival was such that I could hardly hear the music at all, and it was great, but the year before it was awful,” he said. “Requiring a sound impact plan would ensure that events are set up in a considerate way each time.”
Scott Davidson, representing Austin-based Code 4 Event Management, said there is a reason Johnson was satisfied with the festival last year.
Organizers made adjustments last year that Davidson said have improved issues with sound. One was the use of “silent concerts,” in which festivalgoers listened to the music through cordless headphones instead of loud speakers. Another was changing the configuration of speakers so that low-end audio was steered directly at the audience.
Also of help, he said, was the creation of an after-hours party tent, so that the noise would be contained to one tent and one type of sound, rather than having lots of festivalgoers in personal tents with overlapping and potentially unlawfully loud sounds.
“We will continue to implement the same technology, stage configurations, basically all the measures that we have employed during 2016. … We will do such and continue to expand our efforts,” Davidson said.
Eckhardt said in an interview after the meeting that the two entities have had time to get to know each other over the years the festival has been held, leading toward more compromise on issues such as curfew.
“I have an expectation that things will go smoothly,” Eckhardt said. “They went well last year, and like I said, we’re getting to know this particular promoter, and they’re getting to know us, and they’ve been very gracious in being basically a guinea pig in working out the kinks as we develop a reliable and predictable process.”