The future of neighborhood music venue 528 Live is in jeopardy after half a dozen Phoenix police officers swooped in during a concert on April 10 and shut down the event.
But the trouble began earlier last week, according to venue co-owner Alison Daniels.
On April 8, during a virtual meeting of the Willo Neighborhood Association Board — 528 Live is located in Willo, at 541 West Palm Lane — a discussion took place regarding concerns about the free weekly outdoor concerts that Daniels and her partner, Nick Harper, have been holding in their front yard for about a year. The shows, which usually draw fewer than 100 people each week, typically feature local musicians. (The original venue was the porch of the couple's home at 528 West Granada Avenue; they moved to Palm Lane last month.)
Daniels and Harper say they weren't aware of the discussion.
"It was not a topic on the agenda, or we definitely would have been there for that," Harper tells Phoenix New Times by phone.
Daniels adds: "No one told us. No one invited us. No one said, 'Hey, heads-up. People are going to talk about you guys, do you want to come and defend yourselves?' Nobody’s knocked on our door, nobody has said anything negative at all."
A post in the Official Willo Historic Neighborhood Facebook Group by Willow Neighborhood Association President Robert Cannon says that the concerns raised during the meeting included "noise, safety, parking, alcohol consumption," and that the concerts have "grown from a Willo event to a more broader event."
On April 9, Daniels "got a message from a sweet neighbor ... that said, 'Just a heads-up: there was a neighborhood meeting last night and the Community Action Officer in the neighborhood, Officer [Ben] Harris, is going to come to your show on Saturday with the intention of shutting you down." (Harris is also a resident of Willo.)
Harper and Daniels chose not to cancel their event, and, sure enough, just before the end of Saturday's concert featuring guitarist and singer Leon Santiago, six Phoenix Police officers in three cars pulled up to the house.
According to the couple, the officers told them there were too many people there for the show.
"We asked how many people were too many people, or if they counted," Harper says. "They just said no."
The couple says that officers told them it was illegal to have a gathering of more than five people in a front yard — though Daniels notes that before the pandemic, neighborhood happy hours where dozens of people gathered outside drinking were a regular Willo event.
Harper says, "They said people were jaywalking. He said open containers were an issue. I asked if I could drink wine in my front yard. I did not get a clear answer on that.
"He said, 'I know you guys paid to advertise in the New Times.'" (528 Live is not a New Times advertiser, though New Times has written about their venue.)
After the couple finished speaking to the police, Harper took to the stage and ended the show. In the Facebook video of the concert, which is still up on 528 Live's page, Santiago stops playing around the 1:52:00 mark and asks, "Cut it?" before Harper takes the mic and says, "We need everybody to call it a night, and we thank you for your support."
According to Maggie Cox of the Phoenix Police Department, Officer Harris "received complaints from residents of live concerts with multiple people and vehicles in the residential area of 500 West Palm Lane" and officers in Willo "observed approximately 75 people, several cars illegally parked along the street and live music. The organizer was issued a loud party response form, and everyone was asked to leave."
After the cops and concertgoers departed, Harper and Daniels were left with plenty of bad feelings and questions about the future.
For starters, the upcoming April 17 concert featuring Obadiah Parker is canceled, as are all others until the situation gets sorted out.
"I don’t know what’s next," Daniels said in an April 11 Facebook Live video, which she and Harper filmed to discuss the incident. But, she added, "It’s been such an incredible thing to build, to be part of, to see people coming together during the most terrible year of our lives. Because of you guys and your support, we’ve been able to do this."
There were several posts in The Official Willo Historic Neighborhood Facebook Group about the incident. Not all were sympathetic to 528 Live's plight.
"I do not want to speak for all the people on Palm who aren't fans of the event, but most I have talked to are upset you chose to hold it on a weekly basis," said one group member.
But there were far more positive comments about 528 Live's shows. "This is incredibly disappointing," one member wrote. "My wife and I, all our neighbors, love and appreciate the music, joy, and fellowship your events brought our beloved neighborhood." Another said: "We walk our 3 dogs to these venues and enjoy listening to the various musical performances."
Harper says that he and Daniels had previously been considering moving 528 Live out of their home and into a commercial space.
"We’ve already thought about the prospect of a themed venue that maintains the spirit of what this is, but that’s obviously a major investment. ... We don’t know how to do that or anything like that, but that’s something we’ve been kicking around, and it apparently might be our only option."
The Willo neighborhood, Harper says, is "a mixed bag, because we have so many incredibly supportive neighbors who come up and talk to us every week about what a great thing this is, but [there's] just a few people who are apparently unhappy with their life and this is what they decide they need to do. This is just a major inconvenience for them."
"We're trying to be positive and think it’s not the neighborhood. It just takes a few who are in the position of being the fun police. Essentially, that’s all it takes to take something down."