WHEN I first met John Berendt back in the '80s, he'd just returned to Savannah to begin writing what would eventually become Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
My mom was John’s travel agent, back when there was such a thing. He told me over cocktails he was working on a blockbuster book which would uncover the hidden life of Savannah society. And so he was!
It was a special delight to reconnect with John last week in advance of his talk here at the Jepson. Read the interview here.
Ironically, the same day I talked to John about tourism and growth pressures on Savannah, it was announced that all the Savannah Stopover shows scheduled for Moon River Brewing Co. had to be relocated because of noise complaints from the neighbors in the condos nearby.
Keep in mind, these were advance complaints. Stopover isn’t until this weekend.
Moon River, of course, has been in business since 1999—a scant five years after the publication of Midnight. Its outdoor Beer Garden stage has been open for two years.
Moon River and the adjacent condos in question are on Bay Street—a state highway which hosts 18-wheeler traffic 24 hours a day, a major portion of the St. Patrick’s Day parade route, City Hall, and is a longtime epicenter of Savannah’s cultural life.
Why would anyone in their right mind move into a condo on the busiest street in Savannah and then complain about noise?
More to the point: Why is this absurdly unrealistic and unreasonably entitled attitude taken so seriously by City government?
Gene Beeco is co-owner of Moon River.
“It’s too bad the City doesn’t have some provision for businesses like ours to have outdoor live performance. That’s what I find most disappointing,” Beeco says.
“When you deal with neighbors and a building full of residents, I expect to find a great variance in the way people feel about things. It is what it is. But the City should have a provision where you can get a permit for outdoor performance, at a reasonable noise level at reasonable hours.”
Stopover cancelled the gigs when the City said it “couldn’t guarantee” that the condo complaints wouldn’t be enforced.
As Berendt himself might acknowledge, it’s a very passive-aggressive, very Savannah way of selectively enforcing a local ordinance—an ordinance that if followed to the strict letter of the law, literally means talking outside in a normal tone is a violation.
“The current noise ordinance is written so that if they do take somebody to court, they’re not going to lose,” explains Beeco. “Basically it’s enforced upon demand.”
Regardless, we’re happy to provide our usual kick-ass coverage of Savannnah Stopover, now marking its fifth year.
But as Berendt and Beeco both point out, the struggle between preserving Savannah’s vibrant culture and satisfying new residents who are, at least in theory, drawn to town by that vibrant culture continues unabated.