Boardwalk Violinist vs. City Hall: Challenging Ocean City's Noise Ban

Ocean City, Maryland is known for a bustling boardwalk that's packed with the sights, smells, and sounds of summer.

The city's leaders, however, felt the noise was becoming too much to bear and approved an ordinance prohibiting anyone from being audible from more than 30 feet away while on the boardwalk.

Mayor Rick Meehan tells Reason that the goal was "to ensure that everybody had an opportunity to enjoy Ocean City."

But that wasn't how William Hassay saw it after being hassled by cops. Hassay has been entertaining passersby for almost 20 years by playing his violin for tips. "I was told I would be cited and that I would be subjected to face jail time," he says.

So Hassay reached out to the ACLU of Maryland to defend his right to play music.

"The distance limitation that Ocean City choose was so restrictive," James Burke, a lawyer on Hassay's case explains. "All sorts of sounds are audible at 30 feet." A judge granted a preliminary injunction against the noise ban, though Meehan says the city will rewrite the law.

Hassay hopes the preliminary injunction will keep other cities from considering ultra-restrictive noise ordinances that will not only rob citizens of sweet music but other forms of free expression. "If I do lose," he says, "the meaning of [it goes] far beyond playing on the boardwalk."

About 3 minutes. 

Produced by Joshua Swain. Additional camera by Amanda Winkler.

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  • Wintermute||

    I can see two sides to this. How many private nuisance suits and what percentage would have to succeed before the majority through their elected officials make the same behavior illegal?

  • sove739||

    I work at Home with Google. It's by-far the nicest job I have had. I've made $64,000 so far this year working online and I'm a full time student. I've made such great money. It's really user friendly and I'm just so happy that I found out about it. Here is what I do, www.Bling6.com

  • Tonio||

    If only there were some way to privatize the boardwalk.

  • Free Society||

    like when you "buy" something? ew that word just makes you feel so dirty doesn't it?

  • MoreFreedom||

    There is - they could deed the boardwalk to property owners adjacent to it, with an easement restriction requiring that the owner maintain the boardwalk, or just to let the city maintain it.

    Houston property owners own roads adjacent to their property (though maintenance isn't their responsibility).
    But does allow them to do things like build tunnels or sky walks under/over the road, including laying cables (where they would otherwise have to pay a telecommunications company for the service).

  • wwhorton||

    Thirty feet is ten yards. You can hear a group of people talking, someone on a skateboard or rollerskates, a cell phone ringing, any number of things. You can definitely hear the boardwalk tram thing. Last I checked, the point of OC's tourism industry was to draw families with kids and people in town for the bars and the beach, neither of which groups tend to drive over the godforsaken Bay Bridge (or down from Delware) for hours of quiet reflection. I mean, how much aggravation is a guy with a violin really causing?

    God, I hate this damn state.

  • Tonio||

    I believe the thinking is that if they allow one, then more will follow. If this guy takes "donations" then he's not paying sales tax, not part of the merchants guild, etc, etc.

  • space junk||

    Sounds like the idea is to have an oppressive police state mentality. Last I checked, there are no laws on the books for assault by violin music.

    And God forbid some folks tip him for being out there and adding to the environment. Can't have them lousy musicians just parking their asses anywhere they want!

  • Ann N||

    i have zero appreciation for ppl playing music in public for tips.

    but if there is no wind you can hear basic stuff like 'walking' at 30 feet.

    i object to govt writing laws that are so oppressive that it turns everyone into a criminal, leaving enforcement as the metric/discerner of guilt.

    who cares what the laws are if everything is illegal, all that matters then is how its enforced.

    this kind of legislation elevates enforcement policy to ironclad law.

  • MoreFreedom||

    Occasionally a truly talented person will play in public for free. E.G. Joshua Bell, who recently sold out a Boston theater with seats averaging over $100. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/.....58188.html

    While you don't appreciate it, I appreciate that you don't want to use government to put people in jail for doing it.

    After all, you can't have freedom unless you're willing to give it to others first.

  • Sidd Finch||

    Keep your ugly fucking goldbricking ass out of my beach community.

  • Tomblvd||

    Trust me, that part of Ocean City is nothing but BUTT UGLY.

  • LynchPin1477||

    I heard a story this morning that Spain (or some Spanish city) was going to require buskers to basically audition for a license, so that citizens wouldn't have to listen to bad street musicians. Yeah, I'm sure regulatory capture had nothing to do with that.

  • Dan||

    Lots of american cities already outright prohibit or require licensing of street performers. Nothing new there.

  • laurenrhoades||

    as Nicole replied I'm dazzled that someone can make $4730 in a few weeks on the computer. did you see this web page... www.max38.com
    &
    my buddy's mother-in-law makes $62/hr on the internet. She has been fired from work for ten months but last month her paycheck was $15873 just working on the internet for a few hours.

  • space junk||

    For those that are interesed, I found the link to this ordinance on the Ocean City PD website.

    http://oceancitymd.gov/Police/.....ordinance/

    The way it is written, it would seem to me that a lot of game employees should be hauled off or fined. They yell out all the time and you can hear them from more than 50' away.

  • Lucille12||

    my best friend's mom makes $78 an hour on the internet. She has been out of a job for seven months but last month her payment was $17593 just working on the internet for a few hours. Read more on this site.➣➣➣

    WWW.CNN13.COM

  • Cyrano||

    How about selling that boardwalk to the highest bidder to make it private property? Problem solved. There can never be a good answer as to what should and shouldn't be done on public property, and I'm getting tired of Reason's blog writers thinking they know.

  • ||

    I swear to Zod I clicked on an article about a couple renting couch space, but the video and comments are about some busker at the beach?

  • William of Purple||

    ME TOO

  • ArbutusJoe||

    About 30 years ago, when I was a "kid", I went to OC every summer...it was THE vacay for suburban Marylander's. We'd cruise the boardwalk almost as if it were a biological urge. And one of the things I remember the most was "Boardwalk Elvis". He was the decrepit little swarthy guy who was dressed in a rumpled Elvis get-up, who sauntered up and down the boardwalk with a boombox on his shoulder. The boombox of course belted out all of the Kings hits and Boardwalk Elvis sang with a fury (albeit an atonal fury.)

    THAT is what I love(d) about OC. That boardwalk was freedom...from parents, from limits, from the suburbs, from adolescent constraints.

    After I graduated from college, I went to OC with some friends and I was telling them, as we walked up and down the boardwalk, all about Boardwalk Elvis. And not 5 minutes later, he appeared...walking...singing and calling me back to the freedom of youth.

  • Mr. Hyde||

    Playing violins at the beach is a hate crime.
    Fines should be a finger removal for each offense.

  • MoreFreedom||

    Seems to me a proper compensation for those offended by the sounds people make on the boardwalk, would be the sound of coins falling on a plate, or if the object to the noise, they can watch money being counted on TV.

    Of course, any commercial establishment blaring music/ads from speakers on their front door, will create a lot of bad will for many, while attracting some.

    A better distance would be 500'. You can hear footsteps at 30', so they should be fining everyone who steps foot on the boardwalk. But clearly the law is intended to make everyone subject to fines, but to only fine those the government chooses. This isn't equality before the law.

  • ccstips||

    Really, why would they ban ham from playing music? It is very entertaining and relaxing when listening to music on your way back to the city.

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