Noise complaints shut down Afroman

Saturday’s much anticipated Afroman concert in a tent at Poker Flats was broken up 20 minutes before the set finished, due to noise complaints from residents to the Williamstown Police Department (WPD).

Afroman’s act was the centerpiece of TogaSpank, a party organized by Matt Koven ’09. Together with the men’s rugby reunion festivities next to Cole Field, Togaspank marked the beginning of the season’s tent parties. For many, its closure epitomized the mire of holding large-scale parties at the College.

A capacity crowd of 450 toga-draped students had been dancing to the music of New Jersey-based band Miles for two hours when Afroman came on for his 11 p.m. set. Almost simultaneously, WPD received the first noise complaint of the night.

According to WPD Chief Kyle Johnson, residents lodged three noise complaints between 11:03 and 11:20 p.m., from residences at Bachand Avenue in the Spruces, Maple Street (off Cole Avenue) and Chestnut Street (off North Hoosac Road).

“The first call we got [from WPD] reported four or five noise complaints,” said Dave Boyer, associate director of Campus Safety and Security, who was on the scene to shut down the party.

Through an agreement between Koven and Security, partygoers still got to hear Afroman’s hit songs “Because I Got High” and “Crazy Rap (Colt 45).” “Once I heard there were noise complaints I turned down the sounds and asked to Security to hold off till he played two hit songs,” Koven said.

Boyer and Johnson agreed that students were cooperative in leaving the tent. “The crowd left slowly, but other than that there were no further incidents, which was our goal,” Boyer said, noting that he was initially nervous “about the repercussions of what was happening, for people in the crowd who were being pushed, and also about the impact the event was having on the neighborhood.”

Both WPD officers and Massachusetts State Police were on campus at the time. “At 11:39 p.m., Williams College Security called the WPD requesting assistance in shutting down the concert due to excessive noise,” Johnson said, adding that State Police were present as a precaution. “The concert and rugby event were in addition to our regular patrol duties, which is why there were extra patrols working, including the State Police.”

Security also had extra manpower on hand for the weekend, which included a live band in Currier Ballroom, the Class of 2012 Previews, the Williamstown Jazz Festival as well as tournaments for ultimate frisbee, water polo and chess. “Overall it was a very successful weekend, given the volume of events going on concurrently,” said Jean Thorndike, director of Security.

Groundwork for Togaspank

Much of the success of the Afroman concert resulted from Koven’s logistical orchestration. In addition to coordinating the lineup and selling togas in Paresky, he met with Security at an early stage. “The first thing I did was to meet with Boyer,” he said. “I gave them a rundown on what was going to happen, and we discussed past performances and why they’d gone wrong, as well as noise complaints and where they come from.”

Following that meeting, Koven and his team distributed a flyer that gave details about the event as well as a phone number to call if noise levels grew uncomfortable to over 200 houses in the Park Street area as well as along North Hoosac Road, Church Street and Southworth Street.

At least two of the noise complaints to WPD originated from residences outside of that area. Koven also admitted that amidst the activity and noise that evening he missed a few calls to that phone line, but added that none of the callers left voice messages.

“I knew it was a huge risk because over the years I have been to a lot of parties at Poker Flats that got shut down,” Koven said. “But I think it was worth it. My biggest concern was that was that we’d get noise complaints with the first band, so Afroman wouldn’t get to perform, but it was successful in that we avoided that.”

Security lauded Koven for his sensitivity to the situation. “It was clear that Matt understood the implications and pressures of the event, and that he made it a point to be very visible throughout the night,” Boyer said. “However, from our position, we need to look at the big picture, and acknowledge the concerns of the community.”

Noise complaints

The divergence between these community concerns and College culture has been an ongoing source of tension. “The community doesn’t keep the same hours as college students,” Thorndike said. “I think after a certain hour noise complaints are legitimate. Anything after the magic hour of midnight, locals think that things should quiet down.”

Johnson explained that there is no set procedure for College events. “We treat all events equally,” he said. “Normally, we try to work with the responsible parties to find a solution. Most times, the solution is shutting down the source of the noise.” He explained that any call the police department receives complaining about the noise they consider a noise complaint, including multiple calls from a single source when the noise is not effectively reduced.

Security works closely with WPD on such occasions. “Very often, the police will come to the scene, and we prefer this, so we have their support and there’s some understanding of the situation,” Boyer said. “Generally they’ll call us and come after one complaint and shut it down after two.” The WPD has received 32 noise complaints since Sept. 1, 2007.

While one of Saturday’s three reported noise complaints came from 1.6 miles away, some residents in close proximity to Poker Flats said that their evenings were not disrupted. “We’re new here, so we were prepared to be horrified since this house is very old, but we didn’t hear a thing,” said Margot Bowden, who lives behind Mission Park on Park Street, calling Koven’s gestures “thoughtful.”

Wendy Campbell of North Street agreed. “We didn’t hear a thing, although we have heard fireworks in the past. We love it when [College students] have parties.”

Laure Lowry, who lives on Whitman Street, off Park Street, was also supportive. “Even if it lasts until 11 or 12, students have a right to have fun, unless they drink too much and drive afterwards,” she said.

History, however, paints a less optimistic picture. Last semester, First Chance at a Poker Flats tent finished without incident, but both tent parties in the Currier Quad were shut down for noise complaints. “I don’t think demographics of Williamstown allow tent parties,” Koven said. “We’re not buffered like at a large university campus.”

Thorndike echoed his sentiments. “It’s very discouraging,” she said. “Holding events outdoors is very tricky. You’re not just talking about people on Park Street, there are residents all around.” Thorndike added that Security is working with the community to ensure that Senior Week and Alumni Week run smoothly.

Johnson attributed Saturday’s noise complaints to the nature of the event. “Live music simply does not work in an outside venue, as bands cannot alter their volume like a DJ can,” he said. “Any further band scheduling should be done in an inside venue such as the gym or field house.” Johnson has requested a meeting with College officials in charge of approving student events.

Party spaces

“There is definitely a lack of party spaces on campus,” Koven said. “There’s something about going to a tent in a toga; there aren’t many other venues that would have provided the kind of intimate atmosphere. I get so tired of parties in cafeterias, which remind me of middle school dances.”

Thorndike pointed to the Lasell Gymnasium as a “perfect place” for such concerts. “It’s in a non-residential area; you don’t have to worry about bathrooms; you could easily get 600 people in there within fire safety limits,” she said, noting that several prominent bands have performed in Lasell. Boyer concurred, and added, “It would be a huge advantage to have a large purpose-built space for campus events.”

However, the diffuse space and high cost associated with booking Lasell often deter would-be party planners. While using any College venue comes with unique charges – such as supervisory fees for using dining halls and the cost of hiring a moving services, rather than students, to temporarily clear furniture from Baxter Hall to storage trucks – installing a protective floor covering over the wood floor in Lasell incurs a cost of $175, as listed on the Facilities Estimate Set-Up Charge Form.

These deterrents may change in the future. “We are in the process of working with Facilities to make Lasell more user-friendly for student events,” said Jessica Gulley, assistant director of Campus Life. “We’ve had discussions to see what we can do with this space down the road.”

Koven acknowledged Lasell’s potential. “One could conceivably put up fake barriers and decorate the space to make it feel more full,” he said. “I do think it’s possible to be creative and come up with fun solutions.”