We Heard Them, They Heard Us
Thursday, July 28, 2016 2:50 PM


A "comprehensive sound abatement program,'' including giving Fairgrounds management ultimate control over the soundboard, is the only way the Soundset music festival will return in 2017, State Fair management says.

That's the bottom line in the wake of noise and other unexpected problems that surrounded Soundset, a daylong hip-hop festival that attracted more than 30,000 fans to the Fairgrounds on May 29. District 10 used letters, phone conversations, and a face-to-face meeting to funnel residents' complaints -- and propose potential remedies -- about the unanticipated volume, profanity, parking, traffic congestion, trash, and loitering during and after the 10-hour festival. District 10 also sent a copy of its letter to all local elected officials. [You can download the letter at right.]

At a June 30 meeting to discuss Soundset operations, State Fair general manager Jerry Hammer said: “The bottom line is, it did not work the way it should have. If we are to do any outdoor music here at all, we cannot have the same situation we had this year.”

Since that meeting, Soundset's organizers -- Minneapolis-based Rhymesayers Entertainment -- proposed the "sound abatement" plan, says Jim Sinclair, deputy general manager of the Fair. Rhymesayers' plan includes redirecting speakers, monitoring sound levels outside the Fairgrounds and, if necessary, giving State Fair personnel "control of sound emanating from Soundset," Sinclair says. The contractor who handles sound during the Fair itself believes Rhymesayers' plan "should help considerably," Sinclair says.

There is no signed deal in place, but Soundset can return on May 28, 2017, if it agrees to implement the sound abatement plan and meet other conditions, Sinclair says.

Festival wants to come back
Rhymesayers has held Soundset for nine years, most recently at Canterbury Park in Shakopee. Rhymesayers executives Jason Cook and Randy Hawkins say that, by several measures, the 2016 Fairgrounds concert was their most successful yet. They would like to return in 2017 for the festival’s 10th anniversary.

Hammer– who lives in District 10 – told them that, unless the sound impact on nearby residents can be significantly reduced, that will not happen. “From the Fair’s perspective, we are not going to do anything that jeopardizes our relationship with our neighbors,” he said.

State Fair management later backed up that approach in writing. In a letter to State Sen. John Marty, Sinclair pledged: “If we permit the producers of the Soundset Festival to present their event on the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in the future, new conditions and criteria will be in place and it will be under much improved circumstances to address the concerns of the surrounding community.” [You can also download Marty’s and Sinclair’s letters at right.]

Sound is hard to control
State Fair officials say they directly received 47 sound complaints about Soundset. That compares with fewer than half a dozen complaints for a typical State Fair Grandstand show.

Rhymesayers’ Hawkins said that by reorienting speakers and making other technological adjustments, the festival probably can cut volume by 20 percent, make sure the sound still works for fans, and theoretically reduce the impact on surrounding neighborhoods by 99 percent. But because of the quirks of weather, geography, and atmospheric conditions, he said, there are never guarantees with sound. “We can do things that help, but if you get a strong wind, you’re still going to have complaints.”

Learning some lessons

Also attending the June 30 meeting were St. Paul Ward 4 Council Member Russ Stark, who represents the western part of District 10; city officials from Falcon Heights and Lauderdale; the festival’s private security company; and police from the State Fair, St. Paul, Metro Transit, Roseville, and St. Anthony. Most agreed that, having learned some lessons from this year’s festival, the issues of traffic and parking congestion, loitering, public safety, and trash could be solved through better planning, better logistics, and better publicity.

“Most of this is easily solved,” Hammer said. “It all gets back to sound.”

District 10 Como Community Council | 1224 Lexington Pkwy N, Saint Paul, MN 55103 | 651.644.3889 | district10 [at] district10comopark.org

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