2012 has been a rough year for Century Center.
The two-year-old music and event space has faced chronic noise and nuisance complaints from neighbors, as well as traffic and land use issues with nearby bullet company Nosler. Owner Dave Hill shut down one of the venue's largest events, the yearly Roots Festival, with only week's notice in September. Then, two weeks ago, Hill announced he is giving up the ghost on hosting shows at the 750-person indoor venue.
This news is a huge letdown for concertgoers, promoters, local musicians and charities that have used the space to host events. On the other hand, it's a relief for neighboring residents who have complained of increased traffic and violations of Bend's still-fuzzy noise ordinance.
Meant to be a compromise between residents and businesses, the details and enforceability of the current noise ordinance are questionable, and are even more contentious among smaller venue owners with the closure of Century Center.
Century Center will host its last gig on Dec. 31, meaning Bend will enter the new year without one of its few midsize venues. Aside from the The Midtown Ballroom, which can house 1,100, Century Center has been the only active club-like space that holds over a few hundred show-goers.
The closure leads to questions about what will happen to musicians who frequented the venue like MoWo and Larry and his Flask—bands that can't necessarily pack the Domino Room but would fill and overflow a place like The Horned Hand or Silver Moon.
Despite the closure of Century Center, local musician and promoter Mark Ransom is confident that the arts scene in Bend will stay strong if performers and venues are mindful of those living nearby.
"We just follows the rules. Maybe it means an earlier shut down and maybe that's kind of dorky—but we just do it," said Ransom. "We have to embrace the change."
Despite the pressure of the noise ordinance, there are still plenty of venues in Central Oregon that are alive and booking. Here are updates on how the ordinance is affecting Bend's indoor veteran venues, and some newcomers to keep an eye on.
The Horned Hand is continuing to book shows and host live music multiple nights a week. The dismissal of a $500 fine it received in August is a big victory for The Hand, but it's not the end of the story.
"It's hard because you want to be close, where people can walk," said Ladd, "but you can't be too close because people complain."
Nearly nightly calls to the police from a single neighbor threaten to bring more trouble to the venue, and, next time, a ticket is unlikely to end in a dismissal. These facts have forced Ladd to explore options beyond live shows to keep the business afloat. He is even considering a location change in July.
"We're going to transition into the meadery and maybe do some bigger shows," Ladd said. "Tell the people [who have a problem with the noise] that they only have to deal with us for seven more months."
Josh Maquet, owner of both Astro Lounge and Players Bar and Grill, is no stranger to noise issues. The Astro Lounge is located below a row of upscale apartments above the downtown strip, and Players shares the sound sensitive-neighborhood of the former Century Center venue. Astro has been lucky thus far, with no complaints from neighbors, but Maquet says he is aware that could change very quickly.
As for Players, Maquet took a break from hosting shows after two calls from police telling the bar to turn it down. However, he confirmed that Players would be back up and running as a fully functioning venue in January, with plans to remodel the inside of the bar. Despite big ideas, Marquet is still concerned about the noise.
"I bought $1,000 worth of sound-proofing foam that we put in all the windows," said Marquet. "It looked like absolute shit, but I think we have it figured out."
Silver Moon is continuing to book shows on Friday and Saturday through the winter. Because of their location near the Greenwood underpass, set away from residences, Silver Moon hasn't had the same issues with noise as other local venues.
Executive booker for the Moon, Jasmine Helsley, explained that she has been active in voicing concerns about the noise ordinance despite Silver Moon's lack of residential neighbors. She also believes that the responsibility to follow the rules lies with the venue.
"Venues need to educate themselves on how to be good venues for their musicians," said Helsley. "They need to check into what you have to do to make sure their shows don't get shut down."
Noise issues in Bend aren't a major concern for the new Belfry venue in Sisters. Angeline Rhett, of Angeline's Bakery, has converted an old church on East Main Street into a multi-use venue with beer, wine and full kitchen. The Belfry has been open for just under a month and has already hosted local acts like MoWo and national artists including Austin's Matt the Electrician. Rhett hopes to continue to bring music to Sisters, along with lectures, spoken word, movies and other events.
"We don't always need to be driving to Bend," said Rhett of the Sisters arts community. "We can support our own multicultural situation."
Since it opened in early 2012, Broken Top Bottle Shop has become a hub for diverse beers and small-scale live music. During its first month, the venue started hosting the Brews and Bands series featuring tastings and local music, which continues to take place every Sunday at 7 p.m.
Since then, it has become a significant player in the Bend live music scene, hosting an impromptu stand-in for the Roots festival and tons of regional acts.
The noise ordinance has played a role in the scale and timing of the shows at Broken Top, as the business shares the building with residential apartments. Broken Top is willing to play by the rules, and hopes that its neighbors can respect that.
"We stick to the 10 p.m. deadline—we try not to ruffle too many feathers," said Powell. "That's kept us from becoming a totally raging venue, but we do like to rage."
John Nolan, longtime owner of The Victorian Café, has taken over the former Grover's Pizza location on 2nd St. and turned it into a sports bar with a fresh menu and a part-time music space. Nolan plans to continue weekly shows and hopes to start having more local acts as well as monthly out-of-town artists.
Back in November, Pakit cleared out space at the center of its liquidation store on 9th, put up a stage, and hosted the annual Church of Neil event. The show has led to speculation that Pakit could become another of Bend's up- and-coming music venues. Owner Matt Korish explained that while regular shows are not a part of the plan for Pakit, the space is now open for consideration to host larger-scale music events.
"We are not planning to be a regular music venue by any means," said Korish. "Maybe a few events a year."
Noise Ordinance: More Confusing Than Ever
On Monday, the Bend Municipal Court overturned a noise violation issued to The Horned Hand earlier this year.
The citation was dismissed on the grounds that the city's noise ordinance lacks clarity.
It's unclear what this will mean for the future of the city's ordinance.
Bend's live music nightlife is still feeling the squeeze from neighbors and police when they operate at above "reasonable" noise levels or past 10 p.m.
But Monday's decision makes it clear that live music venue owners can't be sure exactly when they are in violation of the ordinance and that it might need work.
Mark Ransom, longtime Bend resident, musician and promoter explained that it's not hard to keep a venue afloat if you follow the rules. Working sound for outdoor shows at Parrilla Grill, whose musical events have, for the most part, been accepted in the same neighborhood as the now defunct Century Center venue, Ransom has learned the dos and don'ts for noise in Bend.
"We don't run the bass and the kick drum through the PA," said Ransom. "That seems so simple. In a parking lot you don't need that, especially if you don't want to piss off the neighbors."
No question, there are two legitimate sides to the noise ordinance argument in Bend, but there are also major consequences.
It's not just the noise ordinance that is causing the Century Center, one of Bend's largest indoor venues, to close its doors at the end of the month, but it surely didn't help.