The promoter of the concert series at Westbrook’s Rock Row development promised improvements last week, but is still researching ways to address noise issues after the first two concerts this year produced hundreds of complaints.

A Press Herald survey of noise readings in Westbrook and Portland during a concert Saturday found that levels still exceeded limits that city officials wrote into a contract with the promoter at the new Maine Savings Pavilion, an outdoor amphitheater off Larrabee Road.

Decibel levels at Westbrook Crossing shopping center – adjacent to Maine Savings Pavilion at Rock Row – sometimes exceeded 80 decibels during a show headlined by Slightly Stoopid, but the music was often drowned out by passing traffic. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The promoter’s phone complaint line and police received about 200 complaints during Saturday night’s show by Slightly Stoopid, a rock and reggae band. That followed about 300 complaints from a May 26  show by Anderson .Paak, a hip-hop and funk performer, at the venue.

The amphitheater opened this year as part of the retail-office-and-housing project being developed at the site of a former rock quarry. The next concert is Thursday, featuring Young the Giant and Fitz and the Tantrums.

Jon Dow, general manager of the promotion company, Waterfront Concerts, told residents last week that they would be “pleasantly surprised” by the concert Saturday, but complaints began during a sound check Saturday afternoon.

Alex Gray, head of Waterfront Concerts, said he’s taking steps to try to mitigate problems. For instance, he said, the subwoofers – speakers that amplify the low bass sounds – were raised off the ground to minimize vibrations and their volume was cut slightly for Saturday’s performance.

Gray also announced that an electronic dance music show that was scheduled for Maine Savings Pavilion in August has been moved indoors to Cross Insurance Arena in Portland. EDM has a strong bass line, Gray said, and many of those complaining about the noise have said the bass sounds, in particular, have been most bothersome.

“That was one where we didn’t think we could be a good neighbor, so we moved it,” Gray said.

Gray said promoters work with the acts on sound systems to try to find the “fine line” between putting on a good show and limiting the disturbance to neighbors. He said his company is working with Waterstone Properties, the developer of Rock Row, to incorporate lessons learned from the current set-up as plans for a permanent amphitheater are developed.

“We’re going to look at the data,” he said. “We will continue to use the analytics we collect. It’s like medicine as a practice – it’s an ongoing evolution.”

Under the deal struck between the city and Waterfront Concerts, the noise from the concerts is being monitored at two sites in Westbrook and one in Portland. The sound can’t exceed 55 decibels – about the level of sound produced by a home refrigerator – or 5 decibels above a baseline of background noise, whichever is higher. If the sound exceeds those levels, engineers are supposed to reduce the volume at the concert.

The sound at both concerts, averaged every hour,  were under those levels, according to a sound compliance officer hired by the promoter and approved by the city. A separate, unscientific survey conducted by the Portland Press Herald showed that the sound exceeded 55 decibels at more than a half-dozen sites during the concert (see map).

BASS BEATS

Gray said his company was still analyzing its phone logs Monday to determine where most of the complaints originated and how many calls might have been duplicates from repeat callers. He said someone calling to complain about noise might have called Waterfront Concert’s line, the police and even city councilors, counting as three separate calls. Gray said he wants to make sure the numbers of complaint calls that are turned over to the city aren’t inflated by some callers lodging multiple complaints.

In addition to the fixed locations to monitor noise, a roving monitor was dispatched Saturday to check on sound levels around Westbrook, said Jennie Franceschi, the city’s director of planning and code enforcement.

Franceschi said that step was taken to determine if spikes recorded on decibel meters were caused by noise from the concert or other sources.

For instance, one spike in a meter reading on Glen Haven Road West in Portland early Saturday evening was determined to have been caused by the noise from a nearby lawnmower, said Lynda Adams, a consultant with Waterstone Properties working on the Rock Row project.

Many of the residents said that bass sounds from the concert were the most disturbing aspect of the noise. Those frequencies are annoying and difficult to control, a sound expert said.

Arlo West, a forensic audio expert based in Lewiston, said bass sounds are at a frequency that allows the waves to be transmitted to the ground and travel through dirt and rock farther and stronger that sound waves through the air. They are known as “infrasound” frequencies, he said.

“That’s going to be really annoying to people who can’t hear the rest of the song,” he said.

The phenomenon is similar to the way sound moves through water at certain frequencies, West said.

“It’s like a whale that can be heard many miles away by another whale,” he said.

A simple solution would be to turn the bass volume way down, “but that kind of defeats the purpose” of a concert, West said.

‘IT’S LIFE’

Residents approached Saturday night were understanding about the noise.

Doris Valente, 75, was at a Little League baseball field on E. Bridge Street with her granddaughter early Saturday evening, and the thumping of the bass could be heard clearly at the field. Valente’s daughter and son-in-law were at the concert, she said.

Valente said the sound was also strong at her home about a mile away, but she wasn’t going to phone in a complaint.

“People are having fun,” she said. “It’s life.”

A Press Herald decibel meter recorded sound levels in the upper 50s at the ballfield, about the same level as a conversation or the noise in an office setting.

Kelly Bernier was sitting in her car at Westbrook Crossing, a shopping center across the street from Rock Row, after driving in to try to catch a little of the music from the concert. She said that she had been hoping the performers were country acts and left after a couple of minutes when it was clear they weren’t.

Bernier said the bass thumping was also loud at her parents’ home on E. Bridge Street, but they weren’t inclined to complain. Her father is hard-of-hearing, she said, and her mother doesn’t tend to rock the boat.

The Press Herald recorded sound levels of about 57 at the Bernier’s parents’ home.

Bernier said she also takes the noise in stride.

“It’s not like it’s every day,” she said of the concerts. “You live in a society” and need to accommodate others’ activities.

Adams said Waterfront Concerts will file a report with the city to detail complaints, sound levels and other information, as it is required to do after every concert. Thursday’s show will end at 10 p.m., an hour earlier than the weekend shows.


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