Don't ban alcohol at Jazz in the Park

Ban is short sighted


By Sean Murrihy

In college, Thursdays would definitely be my favorite day of the week.  Sometime in the early afternoon, I would walk down to Cathedral Square with my blankets.  I’d find that perfect spot in the freshly mown grass that I knew would be in the shade later that evening.  I’d go on with the rest of my day counting down the minutes that I would return to that blanket.  It was a return to a completely different Cathedral Square.  I’d make my way through the crowd, stopping to say hello to acquaintances as I made my way to my friends and my blanket.  We’d pop open our wine, catch up on our week, and just relax to the sound of live jazz music.  That was then, this is now.  Carry in alcohol is no longer permitted at Jazz in the Park.  Should we be allowed to carry in alcoholic beverages to our annual tradition?  It has worked for almost 18 years problem free, and I don’t see a reason to change that now.

For those not fortunate enough to know, Jazz in the Park is an event held by the East Town Association in Cathedral Square Park.  Every Thursday night, residents of the city’s East Side come to Cathedral Square Park with blankets and lawn chairs and listen to a live jazz band between the hours of 6:30 and 9:00 p.m.  The outdoor concert series has been running since 1990 and has largely been a success.  For the 2009 season, the East Town Association Board of Directors voted unanimously to ban the carry in policy of alcoholic beverages from Jazz in the Park after the police brought to their attention Wisconsin State Statute 125.32 6a, which states ‘no person may possess on the premises covered by a retail [license] … or permit any alcohol beverages not authorized by law for sale on the premises.  This means that since festival organizers hold Class “B” liquor licenses, that bringing alcohol to Jazz in the Park was illegal.

This decision basically destroyed a Milwaukee institution for many people.  Jazz in the Park was not a drunk fest like so many other of the Milwaukee festivals turn out to be.  Jazz in the Park was about a community getting together and enjoying one another’s company after braving yet another frigid Milwaukee winter.  There were no lines of division at Jazz in the Park.  There was no black/white, young/old, or gay/straight.  The whole community came out to enjoy this weekly celebration of us.

If this ban on carry in alcohol were really concerned about the community, I would have no problem with it.  There are many negative effects that can happen when a big group of people get together and drink in a small area.  There are fights.  There are messes left over.  Local businesses suffer from a loss of business.  If these were the reasons for the ban, then I’d sign my name to it right at the top.  But I’ve been going to Jazz in the Park for years, and I can honestly say that in all that time I have not seen a single person leave a mess behind.  Local businesses were doing great with Elsa’s and Louise’s constantly running food to the park.  And no matter how hard I looked, I could not find a single incidence report (i.e. Riversplash shooting, fights, etc…) involving Jazz in the Park in its twenty years of operation.  The more I researched, the more I came to realize was that the East Town Associations best real argument was that of the almighty dollar. 

Even as I write all of this, a solution has already been found.  State Representative Leon Young sponsored legislation that would make it legal for festival organizers themselves to decide whether or not to allow carry in alcohol to their events.  He said these events are wonderful and bring our community together.  And guess what?  The legislation passed!  We could ignore the 2009 season and go back to the way things were.  Unfortunately, the East Town Association didn’t see it that way, and again decided for the 2010 season to keep the ban in place. 

So, is it fair for the East Town Association to ban the residents of the East Side from carrying in alcoholic beverages to Jazz in the Park?  No, especially since this very issue set the precedence to make future festivals no longer subject to a good, but in these cases unfair and unnecessary law.  This ban is not something that the community wants.  If the problem is funding the festival, there are many other solutions that can be found that could appease everyone.  Sell raffle tickets for prizes donated by local businesses, go through the crowd with donation buckets, or get more local sponsorship of the event (i.e. Miller, Harley.)  It would be a shame for out community to lose an event that has brought us together and been a staple of our summers for almost two decades.

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