Baffled: Pavilion sound improves

When the Pavilion kicked off with country music legend Loretta Lynn back in July, opinion was divided on the new venue's look.

"Beautiful," raved some, while others chuckled when the Hook's architecture writer likened it to a "lobster trap." But when it came to the sound, it seemed everyone could agree: there were serious problems.

"I was surprised, initially," says Charlie Pastorfield, a local musician who performed every year at the old amphitheater and has already taken the stage at the new Pavilion. "I would have thought at a venue like that, the architect would have made sound his first priority."

Pavilion director Kirby Hutto says the architects did make sound a priority and consulted with sound engineers early in the planning stage. But "until the structure is built," Hutto explains, "it's hard to predict how the sound is going to act."

The sound was clearly misbehaving at shows such as Widespread Panic and the Pixies, where Pastorfield says understanding the lyrics was nearly impossible.

If the sound inside needed improvement, there were also complaints coming from outside the venue. Belmont residents complained at a September city council meeting about "windows rattling" during many– if not all– Pavilion shows, and called for the City to enforce the noise ordinance. That law limits noise in the downtown business district to less than 75 decibels between the hours of 10pm and 6am. In residential neighborhoods, nighttime noise must not exceed 55 decibels.

Because the Pavilion falls outside both the Downtown Business district and residential areas, the ordinance does not apply.

Nonetheless, Hutto promised to work on the problem, and by the time the Allman Brothers took the stage on September 28, the acoustics inside the venue had "improved noticeably," according to Todd Cabell, who's attended five shows since the Pavilion opened.

A "massive improvement," raves Pastorfield.

The change, says Hutto, is thanks to hanging curtains of quilted fabric called "acoustic baffles" that absorb bouncing sound waves.

Hutto says he and his team are still working with acoustic consultants on "fine tuning," and will look for "particular spots where the sound is bad." In addition to hanging extra baffles, Hutto says he's experimenting with different sound systems to see which type works best at the venue.

Perfecting the acoustics inside the Pavilion should translate into happier neighbors.

"Keeping the sound clean and clear within the pavilion means you don't have to run at an excessive volume," Hutto says.

The definition of "excessive volume" is still up in the air, however– particularly in Belmont.

"I enjoy listening to it if I sit on my front porch," says Hinton Avenue resident Kimmie Berke, adding there is no impact inside her house. "It's no different from Fridays After Five," she says.

But a few houses down, and on the north side of the street closer to the Pavilion, Beverly Goodrum claims the noise is still unbearable.

During Pavilion concerts, "I can't hear conversations on the deck, and not even inside," she says. And the baffles leave her, well, baffled. "I didn't know they'd done anything differently," she says. "It's still unbelievably intrusive."

Goodrum's neighbor Eiley Patterson spoke passionately about the problem at the October 2 City Council meeting.

"When our first child is born in November, will he or she be forced to wait until nearly 11pm to go to sleep when concert season rolls around next spring?" she asked. "Will we be forced to abandon our back deck and yard for the indoors, as we've done nearly every concert night this season? Or will we have to sell our home and move?"

Hutto acknowledges noise was an issue at some shows earlier in the season, but the most recent shows have had "zero impact" on the neighborhoods, he insists. "We were out with decibel meters," he says, " and we couldn't even register the sound."

For neighbors seeking solace and audiophiles seeking acoustic nirvana, the Pavilion still has some work to do.

"Hopefully, they won't quit 'til they get it right," says Cabell. "The caliber of performers playing Charlottesville these days demands a venue that can deliver top-notch sound."

Hutto says he'll keep pushing for sonic perfection– inside and out.

"It's a black science," he explains. "Nothing is absolute; you just have to work with people."

Neighbors sound off about Pavilion noise, while audiophiles praise improvements.