Music Church Fined Again

Despite a cease-and-desist order, the Freedom Festival at the Church of Universal Love and Music in western Pennsylvania drew its largest crowd yet — and another fine for founder William “Willie” Pritts.

About 1,000 concert-goers attended the July 1-3 event, which featured artists including George Clinton, The Zen Tricksters, and Victor Wooten, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Zoning officials and Pritts have been at odds over his formation of the non-denominational “music church” for a couple of years. The Fayette County Zoning Hearing Board turned down his applications for a special exemption permit based on sound levels, safety concerns and the county designation for the land.

Officials said Pritts has been cited 15 times — at up to $500 each — in the past several years for holding moneymaking concerts on his land, which they say is zoned for residential or farming uses. Pritts says the county is trampling on his rights as a property owner, and that he accepts donations to offset costs but doesn’t charge for the festivals.

County Planning Director Tammy Shell told the Tribune-Review the festivals are still illegal and citations will likely be issued.

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

Pritts’ appeal of two citations issued for his 2003 Freedom Festival was turned down by the state Supreme Court in May. He said he may take the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court in order to keep “working it out until it’s so-called ‘legal,'” the paper said.

Meanwhile, the church’s Web site is promoting an August 19-21 festival with John Brown’s Body and Sam Bush, and another festival September 9-11 featuring The Derek Trucks Band, ekoostik hookah, and Michael Glabicki of Rusted Root.

A season pass for church events is available for a $200 donation.