Having met at a house concert in Mountain View, California, we moved to Nederland, Colorado (where you could actually see the mountains) shopping for a home suitable for hosting quiet living room concerts. Numerous musicians stayed with us over the years leading to the start of the Aspen Meadows House Concert Series in November 1999.
We have hosted Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer, David Olney, Greg Greenway, John McVey, TR Ritchie, Alice DiMicele, Slaid Cleaves, Judith Edelman, Leslie Tucker, Chris Rosser, Johnsmith, Small Potatoes, Terri Allard, Brooks Williams, Christopher Williams, Louise Taylor, Tom Prasada-Rao, Cliff Eberhardt, GrooveLily, Ruthie Foster, Bill Ward, Pierce Pettis, Eleni Kelakos, Annie Gallup, Peter Mayer, Dan Pelletier, Dana Robinson, Vance Gilbert, LJ Booth, Michael Lille, Brian Joseph, Darryl Purpose, Jack Williams, Tom Kimmel, The Sherpas, Zoe Lewis, David Lamotte, Eliot Bronson, Caroline Herring, Caroline Aiken, Cosy Sheridan, Chuck Pyle, Kate McDonnell, Rachel Garlin, Rebecca Folsom, Joe Jencks, Kris Delmhorst, The Kennedys, The Mammals, Vienna Teng, Jonathan Byrd and Dromedary, Ashley Maher, Mark Erelli, John William Davis, Billy Jonas, The Duhks, Terri Hendrix with Lloyd Maines, Crooked Still, Erica Wheeler, Ronny Cox, David Jacobs-Strain, Carrie Newcomer, Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem, The Wiyos, Freebo & Photoglo, Abigail Washburn, Uncle Earl, Joe Crookston, Steppin’ In It, Eric Schwartz, Richard Shindell, Ellis Paul, Boulder Acoustic Society, Peter Mulvey, Lucy Kaplansky, Luminescent Orchestrii, Antje Duvekot, Willson & McKee, Mary Gauthier, and The Deadly Gentlemen.
Over 100 potlucks (June 2006) later we still marvel how lucky we are to have such talent play in our living room! Musically, our focus is on nationally touring musicians, predominately singer/songwriters. We only book artists whom we have seen live as typically over 90% of the audience have never heard the invited performers. Contrary to what the then current Boulder County Land Use Director believed, our guests came primarily for the community potluck and secondarily for the music. We typically host twelve (12) potlucks per year in this isolated rural mountain neighborhood as we lack a nearby community meeting space. Usually when neighbors meet we discuss work (e.g. noxious weeds) so our potlucks allow us to have some fun instead. Too often people have virtual (e.g. e-mail, Craigslist, MySpace) connections so it’s even more important for mountain neighbors who depend on each other for survival see each other face to face. Otherwise, you can go years without meeting your neighbors up here.
Almost all living room concerts start with an optional potluck at 6 PM with music beginning at 7 PM and ending by 9:30 PM. We encourage our neighbors to walk/bike over and others to carpool (averaging 4 or more per car). There are typically only a dozen or fewer cars that arrive per concert. All cars park on our 2.5 acres so we do not block the road. We do not serve alcohol. Windows are closed during performances so no sound escapes. Our neighbors have told us they cannot hear the music. Barking dogs in our neighborhood make much more noise than our series. Except for one hypersensitive neighbor, none of the other nearby neighbors have complained about dust or traffic from these potlucks. Many have written letters of support indicating that summer (about the only time there could be any road dust) recreation seekers (ATVs, dirt bikes, 4WD pickups) generate far more dust and traffic than our occasional house concerts.
08 August 2006 – Potluck concerts suspended due to a Boulder County zoning interpretation. We were not accused of violating any noise, parking, or traffic regulations. Boulder County jumped in prematurely May 2006 when a neighbor made an inquiry (this neighbor later told us and the County months later it was not a complaint) concerning well water consumption even though Boulder County does not regulate water usage. In reality, we use a fraction of typical household water usage even with our house concert series!
Because Boulder County operates a complaint based Land Use system, they considered that inquiry to be a complaint until it was reclassified months later. By then we were left with an anonymous complaint. It’s understandable why the County might have been confused by his many inquiries.
Boulder County ruled that the house concerts were an illegal business. We argued living room concerts were pure social events that enhanced our rural mountain community. Our community’s desire to party should be protected under First Amendment protection for free assembly.
07 February 2007 – We lost our appeal to the Boulder County Board of Adjustment. Around 200 (Daily Camera estimate) overflowed the 90-person seating capacity Hearing Room. It was standing room only with 18 households out of the 20 households signed up to speak in favor of house concerts. Just one immediate neighbor opposed. The Board of Adjustment was apologetic about ruling in favor of the Land Use Director and recommended that Boulder County change the regulations to allow house concerts. Ridiculously, we were allowed to pay for parties with music but we could not run them as house concerts with voluntary contributions. We requested the Boulder County Commissioners review this ruling but we were denied a public appeal with the Commissioners. The County stated we needed to appeal in District Court even though we did not want a court fight; we worked openly and cooperatively with the Land Use Department from the moment of notice.
Ninety-three (93) letters of support and one petition were submitted as exhibits for Docket AP-06-004 Ching Appeal (Aspen Meadows House Concerts). Twenty-six (26) were from households within the Aspen Meadows Subdivision and the remaining sixty-seven (67) were from households in the areas surrounding Magnolia Road. Of the fifty-seven (57) individual signatures collected on the petition on 31 August 2006 at a concert at the Nederland Presbyterian Church, forty-two (42) were mountain residents with the remaining fifteen (15) from surrounding areas.
09 April 2007 – We had our attorney draft a proposed County amendment to the current Land Use code for home concerts rather than start expensive and time-consuming litigation.
May 2007 – Boulder County Commissioners denied our appeal to review this decision. We asked our supporters to continue writing letters asking the Commissioners for quicker action.
05 June 2007 – At the Boulder County Commissioners’ Meeting, 2 of the 3 (as the third was absent) Commissioners indicated they wanted to speed up the house concert code amendment change. Attention was also drawn to the system of complaint-based enforcement which resulted in an editorial saying the County should have ignored the complaint.
11 June 2007 – Boulder County temporarily lifts the ban on house concerts until permanent regulations could be adopted.
01 August 2007 – One of our neighbors designed a line of gift items with a portion of the proceeds going to our legal defense.
26 September 2007 – New proposed regulations are much restrictive – limiting concerts to 4 times per year and requiring a permit review process.
16 October 2007 – Boulder County Land Use Open House held to discuss potential house concert regulations. It was decided that house concert specific regulation was problematic for Constitutional and enforcement reasons. A task force of those present was asked to come up with some proposed language for Land Use to consider. Land Use suggested administrative review (a.k.a. permits) even for generic gatherings involving as few as 30 people! Subsequent discussion involved review of existing municipal nuisance party laws that do not require permits or limit gathering sizes. They only apply if reasonable impact problems are encountered. We also believe uneven enforcement of any generic gathering regulations to just house concerts is a Constitutional violation of the Fourteenth Amendment for equal protection.
18 November 2007 – The Sherpas performed a legal defense fund raiser at the Nederland Community Center.
29 November 2007 – Boulder County produces second draft which removed the permit requirement, increased the size limit to 60, and allowed 6 “home events” per year.
04 December 2007 – Second Land Use Open House.
04 January 2008 – Revised draft regulation and staff recommendation.
16 January 2008 – Planning Commission hearing modifies draft regulation, focusing on impact (e.g. >55 dB) rather than activity.
01 February 08 – Boulder County Land Use Director resigns.
13 March 2008 – County Commissioners modify staff recommendations in public hearing.
20 March 2008 – Permanent regulations adopted.
29 April 2008 – The Duhks performed a legal defense fund raiser at the Nederland Community Center.
We believe the over 100 supportive letters sent to Boulder County, many of them from close neighbors, made the difference. In our opinion, the County recognized that they had made a mistake believing a neighbor known for his chronic complaints (over 500 airport noise complaints in one year, his exaggerated 19-point “non-complaint”) over all other neighbors.