Local rock band Little Master was on its last song, titled “No Way,” when police arrived.
Tim Morris, the band's guitarist and singer, says at first he didn't notice the officers who showed up a little after 11 p.m. at the house on West Clay Street, where the band performed April 4. But when they “waved the handcuffs in my physical direction,” Morris says, he stopped rocking.
Police cited all of the band's members with violating the city's recently revised noise ordinance, which states that between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. any sound from a musical instrument, loudspeaker or amplifier “shall not be plainly audible to any person other than the operator.”
So far, the revised noise ordinance hasn't led to a rash of citations. Richmond Police doled out 25 noise-related citations between Feb. 22, when the revised city noise ordinance was passed, and April 6. During the same period in 2009, under the old noise ordinance, city police issued 24 noise-related citations.
Violations include “loud noise,” “enumeration of acts declared loud and disturbing noise,” “muffler w/improper noise suppression,” “exhaust system-defective/produce excessive noise” and noises related to trespassing and “maintaining [a] common nuisance.”
Little Master's Morris and drummer Mike Bourlotos were cited with “creat[ing] loud music.” Bass player Leah Clancy was charged with “loud noise from residence.” It's safe to say the bust caught the band off-guard. “In my opinion, the band is medium-loud,” Morris says.
Under the revised noise ordinance, Little Master's alleged offenses are class 2 misdemeanors, and could bring punishment of as much as six months in jail, a $1,000 fine, or both.
Local defense attorney Steve Benjamin, an avowed critic of the ordinance, maintains that the revised law is unconstitutionally vague to the point of being ridiculous — essentially outlawing any sound heard after 11 p.m.
“It is a clichAc that our city would outlaw music, but that is exactly what they have done,” says Benjamin, noting that music is a form of free speech and that any “restraint or criminalization of music must be strictly scrutinized.”
Benjamin, whose firm has received “a number of calls” about the law but hasn't been hired to represent any alleged noisemakers, says the law in effect sends the message, “Police, you go sort it out.”
“That's not the way it's supposed to work,” he says.
First District Councilman Bruce Tyler, who co-sponsored the revised ordinance, says a city task force reviewing the law will meet April 14.