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Music Church Festival Still Draws Crowd…And Citations

(CelebrityAccess MediaWire) — Despite a cease-and-desist order and more fines from Fayette County, Pennsylvania, the Church of Universal Love and Music’s Freedom Festival drew a larger crowd than it did last year.

Officials in the county cited the “music church” host William “Willie” Pritts with another fine, for using his 147-acre farming land to host the three-day outdoor concert. Neighbors have complained about the noise from each of the past festivals.

About 1,000 people came to the event from as far away as Alaska and Hawaii, Pritts told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. In 2004, the festival draw 850 attendees.

Zoning officials told the paper that they have cited Pritts at least 15 times, but as much as $500 each, in the past several years for holding the outdoor festivals. Pritts is accused of using his agriculturally zoned property illegally as a for-profit business in hosting the concerts, but he says he takes donations only, and he contends that the zoning citations violate his rights as a property owner.

The state Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of citations for the 2003 festival in May.

The shows have continued as Pritts keeps on fighting, saying he’ll take the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We’re just going to be working it out until it’s so-called ‘legal,’” Pritts told the Tribune-Review.

The music is a tool to bring people together, he said. That’s the philosophy of the Church of Universal Love and Music.

This year’s festival featured funk legend George Clinton and renowned bassist Victor Wooten. The outdoor festivals have gained a strong following and brought out several big name acts. Many concert goers have testified that the events are peaceful and strengthen the community, while neighbors continue to say the concerts are too loud and could stunt development in the region.

County planning Director Tammy Shell said Pritts’ festivals remain illegal, and that citations will not stop until he does.

“Unfortunately, he’s making a mockery out of our ordinance as he continues to violate it,” she told the paper. “He’s filed for rezonings and special exceptions, and he continues to be denied.”

Had the zoning hearing board accepted Pritts’ reasoning that the music church is a religious organization, Pritts likely would have been able to continue the outdoor festivals without problems. That the board denied his application to use the land as a church, a matter now under appeal, has left Pritts arguing that the zoning laws make a mockery of the First Amendment.

“It’s not their right to decide what is and what isn’t a church,” said Pritts. –by CelebrityAccess Staff Writers