City of Greensboro gets tough on noise for St. Patrick’s Day party

by Jordan Green

St. Patrick may or may not have purged the snakes from Ireland, but downtown restaurateur Simonne McClinton feels pretty strongly that the city of Greensboro is chasing out the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.

For the first time in eight years M’Coul’s Public House will not host an outdoor party on St. Patrick’s Day, which falls this year on Thursday, as a result of a dispute with the city over the cutoff time for live music.

In past years, McClinton said, she applied for a special-events permit to host the party in a city-owned parking lot between Elm and Greene streets with the understanding that the music would end at 1 a.m. This year, she said she was told by Joshua Sherrick, the city’s special-events coordinator, that the city could no longer make an exception for the St. Patrick’s Day party, and she would have to unplug at 11 p.m.

“We felt that was a dangerous suggestion,” McClinton said. “That’s when people start to party. When you have M’Coul’s, Natty Greene’s and the Pour House cutting off at 11 p.m. you could potentially put a lot of people in the street at one time. They’re going to go somewhere. We’d like to allow the party to go later, and let it die out naturally.”

It’s also a matter of simple economics. McClinton said that in previous years attendance in the last two hours of the party equaled the volume of people who showed up throughout the rest of day, from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.

“We don’t even break even until 11,” she said. Assistant City Manager Denise Turner said the city’s policy has always mandated an 11 p.m. cutoff for live outdoor music, but what’s changed is enforcement.

“As we have more residents living downtown, we have received increased concerns and complaints about the noise level,” she said. “We have begun enforcing more stringently downtown.”

Last year, police received a significant number of complaints from residents of Gateway Plaza, a senior high-rise public housing community for residents age 50 and over that is located within a block of both M’Coul’s and the Pour House, Downtown Greensboro Inc. President Ed Wolverton said.

Wolverton noted that other downtown events such as Fun Fourth, the Carolina Blues Festival and outdoor concerts at Natty Greene’s have traditionally abided by the 11 p.m. cutoff, which is referenced in the special events permit.

This year, instead of hosting an outdoor party with live music, M’Coul’s will celebrate inside with a DJ.

The noise ordinance does make an exception for “parades, festivals and other events in the downtown business district for which a city permit is issued.” The kicker appears to be that the exception is irrelevant if the city refuses to issue a permit. McClinton said she has asked the city manager’s office for clarification on the matter. She’s left a message for police Chief Ken Miller, but out of courtesy opted not to bother him when he stopped in for lunch recently. She tried in vain to get the matter on the agenda for a city council meeting. She reached out to council members, only to have District 3 Councilman Zack Matheny say he could bring it up for a vote but he doubted he could get a majority of his colleagues to support an exception. At this point, absent a special events permit from the city, she can’t apply for the required alcohol license from the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission in Raleigh. There’s no point in going to the trouble of buying insurance, ordering a tent and fencing, and training some 30-odd temporary staffers.

“It’s like the city council is showing up at the ninth inning, and letting me take a turn at bat,” McClinton said. “It’s like they’re throwing me a life preserver when I’m already at the bottom of the lake.”

Matheny said he offered to try to get the cutoff extended to midnight, but McClinton rebuffed him.

“She’s blaming the city of Greensboro for not allowing them to play until 1 a.m.,” he said. “You’re telling me the whole St. Patrick’s Day has to be canceled because of one hour. I’m just not buying that.”

The 11 p.m. cutoff has been imposed on other establishments, too. Thomas Urquhart, a promoter who has helped the Pour House with its St. Patrick’s Day celebration for the past four years, said he received the decree from the Greensboro Police Department. Yet Chief Ken Miller said he was unaware of any mandated cutoff time for outdoor live music associated with city ordinances or direction from the city manager’s office.

Wolverton said it’s a reasonable compromise.

“There’s kind of a common-sense thing,” he said. “If it’s a Friday or Saturday, it might be a little more tolerable, but this is a weeknight when people have to get up and go to work the next day.”

The St. Patrick’s Day outdoor party has grown out of the holiday’s increasing popularity in Greensboro.

“The first year we did it inside,” McClinton recalled. “St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Monday. There were people lined up outside in the pouring rain waiting to get in. The following year we decided to have a festival. We’ve never had a complaint. Everybody said, ‘You do a great job. We just can’t make an exception anymore.’” With M’Coul’s sitting out this year’s outdoor party, Natty Greene’s is picking up some of the slack. The venue will showcase bluegrass music by the Family Eversole from 7 to 11 p.m. In past years, Natty Greene’s has kept the party indoors on St. Patrick’s Day.

“Because we’re so full we decided to move it outside so we can accommodate more people,” manager Kelly Crump said. “We’re also selling beer outside.”

The Pour House, which has been able to circumvent the city permitting process by virtue of the fact that it owns its parking lot, is presenting a full-day extravaganza. As in the past, the establishment will provide outdoor live music on St. Patrick’s Day. The day will begin with a live broadcast of the “2 Guys Named Chris Show” featuring Rock 92 radio personalities Chris Kelly and Chris Demm and an “eggs ’n’ kegs” breakfast, and culminate with live music by Holy Ghost Tent Revival from 6 to 8 p.m. and overlapping sets by House of Fools from 9 to 11 p.m. and Sleeping Booty from 8 to 11 p.m.

A listing compiled by Downtown Greensboro Inc. indicates that plenty of other downtown restaurants and bars are getting in on the action: Bin 33 is serving corned beef and cabbage and featuring live music by Amelia’s Mechanics; Churchill’s will be pouring Irish whiskey and Irish beer to a soundtrack provided by the UpperLine-Up Jazz Jam; Grey’s Tavern offers corned beef sandwiches and a range of Irish alcoholic beverages; and Stumble Stilskins opens at 7 a.m. with a breakfast that includes pancakes with Guinness syrup and bangers and closes the night with live music by Patrick Rock and Walrus.

McClinton said it’s possible M’Coul’s will resume its outdoor party next year.

“When you move into an urban area near a train depot and 70 liquor licenses within a couple blocks, I think that noise is part of it,” she said. “A certain number of days of the year people expect to go out and enjoy themselves — that being New Year’s Eve, St. Patrick’s Day, maybe Halloween and a couple of others.”