(Photos by Mark Campbell)
(Photos by Mark Campbell)
As the footprint went in for this weekend’s Madison Regatta Roostertail Music Festival, several residents in the area immediately surrounding the concert venue were quick to complain that the event’s new fencing had stepped on their toes.

The music venue will take up the entire half-block known as Bicentennial Park, including West Street from First Street to Vaughn Drive and a portion of lower Central Avenue. The area was to be enclosed by a tall fence backed by black mesh screen that mostly obstructed the view into the park with entrances on each end on Vaughn Drive and at the corner of West and First streets.

Some residents in the neighborhoods took to social media Tuesday night to express disapproval, noting that they’re getting all the noise, congestion and inconvenience of the music fest without any of the view of the park or river that attracted them to live in the neighborhood. With the music normally loud enough to be heard for several blocks in any direction — loud enough to be window-rattling inside some of their houses — they wondered what was to be gained by installing the black screen on the three streets that border the park to the east, north and west.

By Wednesday afternoon, the Madison Regatta Committee had heard those complaints and responded. While the tall fence will remain in place for security purposes, the black screen started coming down. Madison Regatta posted the following comments on its Facebook account.

“The Madison Regatta committee is announcing that the black fence screening, placed around the Roostertail Music Festival will be taken down in response to concerns raised by neighbors.

“Although the committee still believes in the need for the safety, security, and protecting the investment of those buying wristbands for admission, the committee realizes it was jarring to many neighbors who were not aware of these plans, which had been discussed for three years.

“The Madison Regatta and Roostertail Music Committee do not want this to detract from what promises to be a great weekend of racing and music along the river.

“Madison Regatta and Roostertail Music Festival leadership pledges to meet with and discuss this with the neighbors and the community at large to find the best solution for 2020’s event.”

According to Brent Turner, Roostertail Music Festival chairman, the tall fencing and black screening were organizers’ solution to a problem of people viewing the music festival without paying admission the past two years. With the Regatta spending more and more for bands each year and the turnout getting bigger and bigger, it just wasn’t fair to the organization or its paying customers to make it so easy for others to essentially see the same entertainment for free.

“I’ve got friends who live over there. Many of them who are complaining are my friends,” Turner said, referring to the backlash from residents of Central Avenue. “Nobody’s doing it to create enemies. We’re trying to protect the branding and protect the product from people who want to get it for free while others pay. I know many of those people support it but there’s a lot people that don’t — not those people but people in other areas — and there’s no way we can only do a portion of the park. If we do a portion of it and not do the rest, then it’s why them and not me?”

Turner said the only solution in the end was to lock down the entire Bicentennial Park and that’s where the tall perimeter fence and screening came in.

Jim Pruett, a resident of Central Avenue who has been a paying customer for the Regatta and events at Bicentennial Park for years, said living so close and being completely fenced off from the Regatta and Roostertail is more about access than the loss of view. Sure the big black fence is a bit of an eyesore, but Pruett and his guests always bought wristbands and never really watched the music at Bicentennial Park from home because the view was already limited at best from his home at 123 Central Avenue.

At the same time, Pruett said, residents on Central Avenue and other paying customers walking in from the neighborhood bordering the park to the north and west have always had an access point that helped soften the blow from a week or more of restricted access to their homes. Pruett said having that access balanced out the negatives of living in the middle of so much activity because it was easy to come and go from the music and race to the party back at home.

“It’s sad that it has come to this, but we’re still working with them to resolve some of our issues,” Pruett Wednesday said before the screens started coming down.

Turner said the best Roostertail organizer’s may be able to offer in terms of an entry point, is the same gate other patrons can use at the corner of First and West streets. “I hate it for them but it’s just a couple of blocks,” Turner noted.

Andrew Forrester, community relations director for the City of Madison, was one of those weighing in on social media Tuesday night.

“I get that for the neighbors it is frustrating .... but as a patron of the events, it always frustrated me that there are others (at all the events) who come every year and put chairs on the sidewalk or they sit in their vehicles and enjoy what everyone else pays for,” Forrester said.

Although it’s not been as much of a problem with the Regatta and Roostertail festivals, Forrester said, there have been issues of spectators camping outside the fence at Ribberfest. It not only obstructs walkways but also poses a security problem.

“I’ve seen spectators attending Ribberfest set up chairs and pop-up tents on the city sidewalk outside of the park and view the music festival from there without paying admission,” Forrester said. “The rest of the people have to go through security but then you have all these people outside who could hand something off to people inside. From a security standpoint, that concerns me for the safety of the people attending. That alone for me makes the fence and netting a decent necessity.”

However, Forrester was quick to note that the black netting was unattractive and that if netting was necessary, maybe an alternative could be developed that would serve a greater purpose.

“The black is not the most attractive,” Forrester said. “I’d like to see a custom one made up that talks about beautiful Madison Indiana — something that has our artwork and our festivals on it. Rather that just black that might help a little.”

The Roostertail Music Festival will offer free entertainment on Thursday starting at 5 p.m. with Amy Noel, followed by Steamship at 6:30 p.m., Nick Dittmeier and the Sawdusters at 8 p.m. and The High Divers from 9:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. The Madison Regatta will also be free on Friday when H1 Unlimited testing and qualifying takes place. Starting on Saturday, admission to the Roostertail and Regatta will require either a $25 wristband to each event or a $40 combo wristband that allows entry to both. The exception is Saturday evening when the Regatta Fireworks will be free to spectators in the Regatta area while entry to the Roostertail will still require a wristband. Children under the age of 14 are allowed into both events free all three days.

Form more information visit www.madisonregatta.com