Musicians in traditional costume play bagpipes at a prior Scots on the Rocks Festival; they are playing at the Old Spanish Trail Arena.
Bagpipers play at a prior festival at the Old Spanish Trail Arena. Credit: Moab Sun News File Photo

Moab’s annual Scots on the Rocks festival celebrating Scottish culture has usually been held at the Old Spanish Trail Arena. Last year it was moved to the Center Street Ballparks near the middle of town. While the new location increased local attendance, it also meant loud bagpipe music was audible throughout downtown for the duration of the event, which caused a number of citizen complaints. 

This year, Scots on the Rocks again applied to host their fall event at the ballparks—but the permit was denied by the city council during its regular April 26 meeting and sparked a debate among councilmembers about which events they could, or should, deny due to noise. 

Two citizens came to the meeting to express that the event shouldn’t be at the ballparks. One, who lives across from the ballparks, said that the ballparks had failing infrastructure and that adding another event there “without strict management is a mistake.” 

She also said that she felt the council was failing her and other locals, adding she believed most of the council, and the mayor, ran their campaigns promising to be a voice for community issues, but so far, she hasn’t seen that. 

“Connection and communications between the community and city hall seem to be mainly through emails … we have reached a point where the connection between government and local people is so weak that citizens have taken it upon themselves to buy and distribute their own noise regulation signs for neighborhood streets,” she said, “in hopes that we might get some relief from traffic and noise.”  

“Please stand up for us,” she said. 

The main complaints from residents centered around noise, councilmembers said, and pleas that the event be moved back to the Old Spanish Trail Arena. 

“A lot of us were elected to look out for not just communal needs, but also neighborhood needs,” Councilmember Rani Derasary said. “And one of the biggest rallying cries that people in our community are unhappy about … is noise. I know from my interactions with people that they’re pulling their hair out wanting us to do more.” 

Derasary said that while the state legislature is limiting how Moab can enforce noise ordinances, moving the event away from the middle of town is something that the city could do to help its residents. 

Councilmember Jason Taylor pointed out that other loud and crowded events are held at the Center St. Ballparks, including the Moab Folk Festival; and in other places around town— there were complaints about the Street Fest also, held during the Red Rock Arts Festival in front of the Moab Arts and Recreation Center, he said. 

“I worry that as we go down this slope of denying this event because we don’t like bagpipe music or we don’t like the music of this culture, then we’re saying we’re not willing to accept certain types of music,” he said. “This is a cultural event … this is the thing people thrive on, that they love.” 

Taylor added that when he spoke with event organizers recently, they weren’t aware of any complaints. He argued the council should work with the organizers to make their event at the ballparks more community-friendly. 

Councilmember Tawny Knuteson-Boyd agreed, saying that she wasn’t “ready to say we can have one kind of use and not another.” 

“It just doesn’t seem fair,” she said. “It seems pretty biased.” 

Councilmember Luke Wojciechowski agreed that while Scots on the Rocks has an element of music in their event, the music is “significantly different” from other musical events: “there is no other music-based event where it is the same song being played for 12 hours straight at a really loud volume,” he said. 

“Once again, it is this part of our community that is being exposed to the most noise,” he said. “At a certain point, I think they need some respite from that. They’ve identified this event—outside of ATV noise—as the one that has the most significant disturbance to their quality of life.” 

Wojciechowski said he wouldn’t want to jeopardize the event’s ability to continue and grow, and that he enjoyed the event, but he doesn’t want residents’ quality of life as the trade-off. 

The event permit was ultimately denied, on the basis that the event presented “significant or unacceptable adverse impacts on the community.” The motion to deny the permit passed 3-2, with Taylor and Knuteson-Boyd dissenting. The event organizers were encouraged to look into hosting the event at the Old Spanish Trail Arena, as they’ve done in the past; they also have the option to appeal the permit denial.