Playback: The Westin Sues the Nook Over Sound
And “Playback” votes in the Austin Music Poll
Credit Austin's music community with this: We're exceptional at outrage.
Hackles shot up last week when news broke that the Westin had filed a $1 million lawsuit against nearby Sixth Street bar the Nook over loud music. Typically, the nightlife demographic channeled its ire digitally, bombarding the hotel's Facebook page with one-star reviews. One clever hacker changed the hotel's Google business listing to "crusher of local music venues."
Meanwhile, down at City Hall, District 9 Council Member Kathie Tovo received zero calls and exactly three emails about it.
As usual, internet outrage proves more therapeutic than constructive. Like a tree falling in the forest, if 1,000 voices melt down online, does it make a sound at the civic level? What Austin needs now more than ever is policy protecting existing music venues from being threatened by new developments.
In fact, one such policy recommended in Mayor Steve Adler's Omnibus Resolution, the Agent of Change Principle, resolves neighborly dynamics based on who was there first. For example, a new condo built next to a club must soundproof accordingly – and vice versa. Agent of Change isn't one of the four Omnibus policy points headed to the dais late this month, but a draft heads to the Music Commission meeting on Monday.
The ongoing Westin vs. Nook conflict remains the poster child for Agent of Change. Beginning shortly after the hotel opened in July 2015, management repeatedly called APD over loud music coming from the Nook, which has hosted bands and DJs since opening in 2012. In September 2015, representatives from the city's Music Office conducted sound evaluations on two different floors of the Westin, one having been retrofitted for soundproofing. The city's data showed neither floor stifled bass frequencies that were in a compliant range.
The Westin's legal filing characterizes its million-dollar redesign as a fortification of "extra windows and drywall." Their lawyer Eric Taube wrote that there are no construction techniques currently available that could effectively mitigate the roofless club's bass waves. Acoustiblok, a dense-yet-flexible soundproofing insulation used in Trump Towers and locally at Jacoby's and Weirdos, is proven to block 27-to-63 dBs throughout all frequency ranges.
Before the lawsuit, seeking damages for poor reviews and cancellations plus an injunction against the "chest thumping bass," Westin management and Nook owners had intermittently collaborated on a resolution including speaker configurations that failed to eliminate sound issues. During that time, the Nook was twice cited for sound infractions. Most instances of APD visitation found the venue compliant.
In October, City Hall hosted a three-day demonstration of JBN's Sound Ceiling, a speaker system that pumps music down from above instead of out and up. Officials believed it could solve the Westin's issues with the Nook's bass. The latter's owners, J.D. Dunn and Stephen Condon, have offered to implement the sound system if the former pays the tab, roughly $60,000 with an additional $15,000 for the truss to hold it. Westin GM Kris Carlson, in a statement, seems amenable to the offer.
"We have agreed to cover the costs as long as they agree that, if for some reason their new system does not work, they will turn the bass down," wrote the hotelier.
If those details can't be hammered out, no clear legal precedent exists for a potential Westin v. Nook trial. In 2001, the Sheraton Hotel filed suit against long gone Sixth Street venue the Empanada Parlour over concert sound bothering guests. It settled out of court.
"I seriously doubt this case will go to trial," says music law specialist Rebecca Reynolds, leader of the newly minted Music Venues Alliance. "The cost it will take to get it there may not be worth it. Even if it did go to trial and Westin gets a $1 million judgment – which is highly unlikely – I don't think it would set a precedent for every venue and every situation because lawsuits are fact specific."
Reynolds says filing petitions often means an "economic battle." A hotel can afford to repeatedly sue a venue until they run out of money. Carlson characterizes the situation not as an attack on live music, but "simply asking our neighbor to turn their bass down."
Meanwhile, the city has also been giving a close listen to the Nook's low-end. In September 2014, officials authorized the Music Office to use C-weighting, a measurement of low-end frequencies, "as a sound mitigation tool, where appropriate." Last year, in an attempt to resolve the dispute, the Music Office imposed bass regulations of 100dB-C level on the Nook after midnight Sunday through Wednesday. The venue hasn't been cited for noncompliance at those standards. They're currently the only bar on historic Sixth Street to have their C-weighting measured.
Across the board, the Music Office has had marked success in EQ-ing the environment of Austin's neighboring clubs and residences. Over the last three years, complaints about commercial music have dropped from 6,557 to 1,836 annually. Since there's been someone telling someone else to turn their music down since man's first drum circles, sound standards including C-weighted monitoring give venues clear rules to play by, which is what they've been asking for.
Next up, getting Council to sponsor and pass Agent of Change, so we can keep the lawyers out of live music.
Playback's Austin Music Awards Ballot
"I'll never vote again," I howled at midnight on Nov. 8 as a corporate fascist edged out my political robot in the presidential election. And yet, I'm already back at the ballot box casting my picks in the Austin Music Poll, on which voting runs through Jan. 31. Winning musicians will be crowned during the 35th Annual Austin Music Awards at the Moody Theater on Sun., March 12. Behind-the-scene categories are presented March 6 at the Austin Industry Awards, hosted by yours truly and the Chronicle's new News Editor Chase Hoffberger, the David Spade to my Chris Farley.
Band of the Year: Survive
Best New Band: Tear Dungeon
Musician of the Year: Willie Nelson
Album of the Year: Survive's RR7349
Song of the Year: "Ha Ha Ha Ha (Yeah)," White Denim
Rock: A Giant Dog
Hip-Hop/Rap: Dowrong & Dingus
Jazz: Church on Monday
Blues/Soul/Funk: Eve Monsees
Avant-Garde/Experimental: Golden Dawn Arkestra
Folk: Carson McHone
Latin: Grupo Fantasma
World Music: Gourisankar & Indrajit
Cover Band/Tribute Band: Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath
U-18 (Majority of members are under 18): Jack Montesinos
None of the Above: Attic Ted
Female Vocals: Jai Malano
Male Vocals: Trey Privott (Los Coast)
Guitar: Jonathan Horne
Drums: Thor Harris
Keyboards: Earl Poole Ball
String Players: Mother Falcon
Horn Player(s): Hard Proof
Miscellaneous Instrument: Bob Hoffnar (pedal steel)
Songwriter: Quin Galavis
Radio Station: Sun Radio
Radio Music Program: Blue Monday, Mike Buck, Sun Radio
Radio Personality: Jay Trachtenberg, KUTX
Record Store: Antone's Records
Music Store: Austin Vintage Guitars
Instrument Repair: Lauren Ellis, Strait Music
Specialty Instrument Store: Switched On Electronics
Equipment Rental: Rock n Roll Rentals
Recording Studio: The Bubble
Producer: Adrian Quesada
Local Label: Super Secret Records
Music Writer: Raoul Hernandez
Live Music Photographer: Roger Ho
Poster Artist: Billie Buck
Album Art: Blxpltn, New York Fascist Week
New Club: Grizzly Hall
Live Music Venue: Mohawk
Live Music Booker: Graham Williams
Club Lighting: Empire Control Room
Club Sound: ACL Live at the Moody Theater
Out-of-Town Music Venue: Paper Tiger, San Antonio
Best Music Venue to Play: ABGB
Ongoing Music Residency: Leo Rondeau, White Horse
Music Support Nonprofit: Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM)
Music Business Hall of Fame: Eddie Wilson
Hall of Fame: Big Boys