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Music festival planned for Lewis Farm in Concord hits the road due to lack of approval back home 

  • Becky McWilliams and James Meinecke have purchased Concord's Lewis Farm and will keep it as a working farm. Nick Reid

  • —Courtesy

  • Becky McWilliams and James Meinecke have purchased Concord's Lewis Farm and will keep it as a working farm.

  • Becky McWilliams and James Meinecke have purchased Concord's Lewis Farm and will keep it as a working farm.

Monitor staff
Published: 9/18/2019 5:38:15 PM

A Concord farm that held a multi-day music festival on Silk Farm Road last year had to move the event out of state this year because it couldn’t get the proper permitting from the city of Concord.

Instead, this weekend’s Equinox Music & Art Festival will be held in tiny Minot, Maine, more than two hours away.

Lewis Farm and Greenhouses owners, state Rep. Becky McWilliams and James Meinecke, had been planning acts, clearing trees on their property for at least two different performance stages and selling tickets to the event in Concord up until the end of July and hoped to attract 2,400 people, according to Facebook. The festival promised live music all day and night from more than 60 performers, fire dancers and creative artists over four days, from Sept. 19 to 22.

Mayor Jim Bouley said he, along with several city councilors, received calls from concerned residents after the Equinox Music & Art Festival last year.

“I probably had a half dozen folks coming to me saying, ‘What was going on? Why did the city allow this to happen? Why did I have to endure the noise? Who gave approval for this to go on a weekend?’ ” Bouley said Wednesday.

Bouley said he gets calls whenever someone holds any type of event in a residential area, including Concord High School football games. He said he thought the music festival pushed the envelope of what neighbors would be willing to accept.

“I would say that multi-day festivals are probably better suited not in neighborhoods, but in more general commercial-type areas,” he said.

The farm owners’ application to hold the Equinox and one other festival, along with weddings and other outdoor activities, was reviewed by the Planning Board in June. City Planner Heather Shank said the farmers did not properly address questions from city officials having to do traffic control, emergency access and security at the event.

“They didn’t realize some of the challenges and there were a lot of issues they couldn’t address in time for the event to take place,” she said.

Agritourism has been an emerging issue across New Hampshire as many farms, pressed to find new ways to make money, have turned to concerts, weddings, corn mazes and educational events to draw interest and bring in revenue. Municipal officials have been struggling to come up with ways to approve and regulate those types of activities.

In Henniker, a farmer sued the town after planning and zoning boards refused to let him hold wedding receptions on his Christmas tree farm. The case ended up in the state’s Supreme Court. The court ruled, 4-1, that the weddings were not “ancillary” to the principal farming operation.

Meinecke and McWilliams said they need to find ways to utilize their property – 130 acres – and supplement their income in addition to selling vegetables, fruits and herbs. The couple also came before the city in March to testify during a public hearing on the proposed solar ordinance. They said they are hoping to build a 13-acre solar farm on their property to help financially support farm operations.

After Meinecke and McWilliams approached the planning board to get approval for their festival, some community members wrote to the city in support of the event.

“This farm has long been a source of fresh produce for the people in the area and was sold a few years ago to a young couple who is trying to keep it a working farm,” said Concord pediatrician Patricia Edwards. “In order to do that they need to be creative and offer additional services such as meals, wedding venue, concerts . . . to keep the farm fiscally healthy.”

Others agreed.

“I support our neighbors at Lewis Farm and Greenhouses in their plans to have agritourism at the farm, including weddings and music events,” Concord resident Melissa Hinebauch wrote. “I make an effort to vacation at agritourismos overseas, and would like to see more agritourism in N.H. Lewis Farm and Greenhouses would be an excellent steward of this business diversification.”

Manchester State Rep. Nicole Klein Knight also wrote in support.

“Please support this farm in their efforts to diversify the property and make an honest family living,” she wrote.

Others were not so keen on the idea. A petition that garnered 29 signatures from concerned Concord citizens – nine of whom live on Silk Farm Road and 10 of whom live on nearby Blevens Drive – said the festival caused “excessive noise” that was “inappropriate for a rural and quiet setting.”

The farm borders the town of Bow, and several Bow residents also submitted letters complaining about the festival.

“A festival goes on for days and is not a few hours affair,” wrote Rita Davis, who lives in a 55+ community in Bow. “I don’t want to keep my windows closed all weekend in order not to listen to what supposedly is music. I don’t believe Lewis Farm is the venue for such events. It is surrounded by residential neighborhoods, people who moved here for quiet and nature. The traffic will be horrendous, along with the noise.”

Others cited the noise and long hours of the festival.

“While I understand their need to try and supplement their income I do not support or think this type of event is in the best interest of the Concord and Bow communities,” wrote Jessica Ralston, of Bow. “I believe it would put an undue hardship and strain on our local resources such as police and fire. Also, our roads and residential area are not made for these types of events.”

Concord Police Lt. Sean Ford said police responded to Lewis Farm around 11:15 p.m. last year on Sept. 23, day three of the festival, for “multiple calls about noise and loud profanities coming from the festival,” as well as for an intoxicated person who needed medical assistance. He said the music had stopped by 11:30 p.m. when police responded.

Scott McElravy, Code Enforcement Officer for the town of Minot, Maine, said the town does not have any rules restricting “mass gatherings,” unless they take place by a large body of water – then there are some safety regulations. According to the 2010 census, 2,607 people live in Minot and if the Equinox festival – which is taking place at an off-road race track – meets its attendance goals, it will roughly double the population of the town for the weekend.

“It’s pretty flexible,” McElravy said.

McWilliams said she was unavailable for comment this week because she was busy setting up for the festival.

Meinecke said the city kept creating new hurdles and requirements to prevent the festival from going forward that it seemed they never had any intention of allowing it to go through.

“We don't feel like we missed the deadlines or failed to get the approval – the city of Concord failed to make this a clear process that had any hopes of going through,” Meinecke said. “At every turn, they pulled out some obstacle to try to stop the process." 

Shank said the city is happy to work with Meinecke and McWilliams as they plan future events at their farm.

“There are issues they need to be dealing with now if they want to do this next year,” she said.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comments from Meinecke, who was interviewed Thursday.

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