I live just 1.5 miles from the Highlands Festival Grounds where Bourbon and Beyond took place over the weekend and Louder Than Life returns on Thursday. I can hear the music from my house. Sometimes I can pick out what song is being played but most of the time it’s just a low hum and the thump of a heavy bassline.
But what about everyone else in the area?
Last year, The Courier Journal published a letter to the editor by Joseph Stoltz about what the noise was like for him, living right next to the festival venue. That’s when I learned the stage set-up pointed speakers toward the neighborhoods. My mind was blown. Why set up stages to be a further nuisance to the neighborhoods when Danny Wimmer Presents, the production and promotion company that brings both festivals to town each year, could set up the stages to project the sound toward the airport and bother no one? I decided to check in on Stoltz last week as well as talk to other neighbors who live closer to the festival grounds to see how they were anticipating the festivals this year.
I live next to Louder Than Life.This rock festival is a disturbance of the peace.
Like everything else, my neighbors described different experiences. Some love the free concert. The guy accepting $20 to park on his lawn certainly loves it. But others say it gets old fast.
There’s no doubting the economic impact of these two festivals. In 2022, 275,000 fans turned out to enjoy the back-to-back festivals, generating more than $43 million for our community. Louisvillians want to keep that money flowing, and we all enjoy the opportunity to see some of our favorite bands. This GenXer bought a Friday day pass to Bourbon and Beyond, excited to see Duran Duran, a band whose posters adorned my bedroom walls as a teenager, perform this year.
Heather Leger lives just three blocks away from the venue. “Sometimes it’s cool and other times I’m over it,” she said, “If I really wanted to go I would’ve bought tickets.” Leger also stressed the difference between the two festivals. “Louder Than Life is exponentially louder,” she said.
Stoltz lives in nearby condominiums. “Some of us simply aren’t looking forward to it,” he told me on the phone. Some even leave town for “a quiet weekend someplace else.” But Stolz stays. He shuts his windows and puts ear plugs in. Last year, his dog hid under the bed for the duration of Louder Than Life. “It freaked him out the whole weekend,” Stoltz said.
When I asked the production company about the noise impact for nearby neighborhoods, they responded with a statement on Sept. 8 that read, “We take the input of the community seriously and continue to employ best practices to mitigate sound while we evaluate long-term ideas and their impact on the entire city.”
But the fact remains that their stage setup points speakers toward the neighborhood instead of the airport. To the question of if they planned to turn the speakers around in future years, they responded: “The stages for Bourbon and Beyond and Louder Than Life will remain in the same locations as in years past.”
This is contradictory to what Doris Sims, senior vice president of business development for Danny Wimmer Presents, told The Courier Journal last year. She said that moving the speakers “has been our goal since the beginning.”
Why were speakers ever pointed at the neighborhoods to begin with?
The festival site used to be an Executive Inn location before it was demolished in 2009. Sims said it was nothing more than “asphalt millings and dirt” when they moved the festivals to the lot, which limited their options. But Danny Wimmer Presents has since worked with the state to have the dirt removed and the site cleaned up, making the repositioning of the stage and speakers a possibility.
But the stage and speakers still point toward the neighborhoods.
Can you hear Louder Than Life from home?Let us know. Write a letter to the editor here.
Local scuttlebutt questioned if there was an issue with pointing speakers toward the airport due to some unforeseen air traffic concerns. I called the airport to vet that rumor. Natalie Ciresi Chaudoin, director of public relations for the Louisville Regional Airport Authority, responded with a statement reading, “Any determinations regarding the location of the stages and placement of associated speakers and audio equipment for the Bourbon and Beyond and Louder Than Life Festivals is made by the Festivals’ production teams and not staff at the Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport (SDF).”
To go one step further, Chaudion also confirmed that the SDF staff actually works with the Festivals’ production teams to close the east runway during both music events so air traffic doesn’t interfere with concert-goers’ enjoyment. They work with Danny Wimmer Presents to schedule routine maintenance during this time as a courtesy, “minimizing any disruptions to operations at SDF, during this time,” Chaudion wrote.
So, no, the airport location is not a hindrance to the stage set-up or speaker location.
Louisville bends over backwards to accommodate Bourbon and Beyond and Louder Than Life
Phillips Lane from Preston Highway to Freedom Way, a major public thoroughfare, has been closed since Sept. 4 and will be restricted to traffic until Sept. 29. It’s just one more example of how the local neighborhoods bear the brunt for these music festivals. Losing Phillips lane makes getting to the expressway or to the airport a big inconvenience for those who live along Preston Highway.
Doug Sweeney, Louisville Metro Government’s Special Event Manager said Phillips Lane needs to be closed for this long because the event happens on both sides of the street. “There’s a great deal of set up that has to take place,” Sweeney said on the phone, “the mayor’s office and other people feel it is certainly worth the inconvenience.”
But how many people in the mayor’s office live off of Preston Highway? Stoltz does and he feels these festivals are “really in the wrong location. It’s too dense of a neighborhood,” he stressed.
All of the inconveniences might be easier to tolerate if residents felt that Danny Wimmer Presents could follow through on what they promised. “A big thing would be to turn the speakers the other way,” Stoltz said.
Should Kentucky bourbon get tax break?‘Refundable’ tax credits wrong policy for boosting signature industries
After reading the production company’s statement, I followed up to ask if moving the speakers so they are not facing toward the neighborhood is still the goal for future festivals? If not, what are the barriers to changing the direction of the speakers? At the time of this writing, I have not received a response. Residents near Highlands Festival Grounds deserve an answer.
Danny Wimmer Presents’ statement did offer community members a hotline at 502-233-4880 to share their feedback on the sound and stated, “DWP will make necessary adjustments whenever possible to address any concerns.”
I know my hotline feedback will be to ask that they set up the stages so speakers point toward the airport and away from residential neighborhoods.
Maybe if enough people call in this year, they’ll finally turn the beat around.
Bonnie Jean Feldkamp is the opinion editor. She can be reached via email at BFeldkamp@Gannett.com or on social media @WriterBonnie.