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Music Plays On

Posted on 29 April 2010

We are happy to hear that Sag Harbor Village is taking steps to legalize live music in restaurants and bars in the village. Up to now, live music officially has been banned, but offered, nonetheless, under the radar screen at establishments up and down Main Street.

While we understand the logic behind the music ban and well remember the dark days of Roccos, that throbbing disco on West Water Street where music blasted practically all night long in the summer months, the ban has always been one with virtually no teeth. After all, it was in place during Rocco’s tenure and it did virtually nothing to dissuade the owners of that club from flaunting it in village officials’ faces by racking up fine after fine while the music played on.

But these are different times. Rocco’s is long gone and the restaurant culture is thriving in Sag Harbor. Over the winter, we witnessed an emergence of a dynamic music scene at these establishments, as well as at Bay Street Theatre, which is permitted to offer live music. It’s a scene that has brought heart to the community, customers to Main Street and life to dark winter streets while garnering, at least to our knowledge, little in the way of noise complaints.

Like prohibition proved in the 1920s and ‘30s, an all out ban on anything, be it music or booze, doesn’t curb the behavior — it just drives it underground and invites subversion.  Which is why we believe it’s time for the village to repeal the ban and proceed with legalizing live music. Having a law on the books that all establishments must adhere to would give the village more authority to rescind a permit if a bar or restaurant fails to follow the guidelines.

But there’s still much we need to know about this potential law. We find it puzzling that while this legislation would allow live music — which by our definition can be anything from one guy with an acoustic guitar to a full on heavy metal band with giant amps — it would not permit a cabaret. Perhaps we’re  a bit fuzzy on the definition, but to our way of thinking, a cabaret often consists of a singer or two with a piano or, as in the case at Blue Sky, a female impersonator lip syncing to pre-recorded music. We’d hate to see this sort of entertainment go away and we’re not sure why the village would find it objectionable.

Then there’s karaoke. We can’t figure out where that fits in at all here.

So no doubt, defining what constitutes live music either through numbers of performers allowed, decibels emitted or instruments used, will be part of the debate. And we would ask the village to reconsider the cabaret ban as part of the equation.

With that in mind, it seems the village board still has some work to do. While it’s great officials have East Hampton’s music law to look to for guidance, given the situation in Sag Harbor and the unique acts that have contributed to the vibrant music scene, we would encourage them to refine the law so it doesn’t exclude the very acts that have defined that scene. 

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