Music Church Discord Continues

The Fayette County Zoning Hearing Board has upheld a previous ruling to fine the Church of Universal Love and Music founder William “Willy” Pritts for holding moneymaking concerts on his western Pennsylvania property without the required permits.

The decision is just another setback for Pritts, who’s been at odds with Fayette officials over the land use designation for two years. Board members have voted to deny his request for a special exemption permit twice based on sound levels, safety concerns and the county designation for the land.

The June 22nd hearing was regarding two citations issued in August last year at $500 each. Pritts’ neighbors and city officials have complained about loud music being played into the early morning hours and alleged fighting stemming from the “church” concerts.

In May, the state Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal on similar citations issued in 2003, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Pritts has said he doesn’t charge for tickets but accepts donations to help offset his costs. However, a zoning officer told the board he was able to reserve four tickets for this year’s Freedom Festival for $240, the paper said.

Meanwhile, the decision isn’t stopping the church founder from hosting this year’s July 1-3 Freedom Festival, which has national acts including The Zen Tricksters, Victor Wooten, The Bomb Squad, and Sam Bush on the bill.

“This year’s main event will happen as well without hesitation and will no doubt provide the same atmosphere of promoting peace and unity through live music,” said a statement released on behalf of Freedom Festival.

Last year’s event reportedly drew about 850 concert-goers to the venue, which includes a 60-foot-wide open stage complete with sound booth.

Pritts has said he started the non-denominational “music church” on his property to inspire spiritual growth through music and to give people a place to worship besides four walls and a bell tower.

Zoning officials aren’t buying the argument. They claim the church is just Pritts’ way of dodging a county rule preventing land owners from profiting off their land in any way other than farming or residential uses.