By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
It’s unlikely that Douglas Crawford will be invited back for an encore performance in front of City Council.
Crawford, a guitarist and singer known professionally as “Doug Memphis, the Rockin’ Crooner,” is one of the performers who entertain the crowds on the Ocean City Boardwalk each summer to earn tip money.
He appeared at a City Council meeting Thursday night to urge the governing body to allow Boardwalk performers to use small amplifiers to avoid getting drowned out by the background noise created by the crowds, amusement rides and wind on the famous oceanfront promenade. But Council did not support his proposal.
At one point, Crawford snapped his fingers and began loudly singing, “On the South Side of Chicago,” to demonstrate the effort it takes for him to be heard above the Boardwalk’s background noise.
“There’s so much ambient noise up there on the Boardwalk, as you would expect – all the walking, talking, the rides, the surf, the winds. If you are a singer, you have to project like crazy just to be heard 30 feet away,” he told Council during the public comment part of the meeting.
He warned that singers, particularly young ones, risk harming their vocal cords if they are forced to loudly project their voice for even a half an hour.
Crawford brought a small amplifier with him to show the Council members what he has in mind.
He left the meeting after speaking. Although Crawford was no longer in the audience, three Council members made it clear near the end of the meeting that they had no interest in considering his proposal for allowing small amplifiers on the Boardwalk.
Entertainers are banned from using amplifiers on the Boardwalk under Ocean City law.
Councilman Jody Levchuk, in particular, was adamant that he would never be in favor of letting Boardwalk performers use amplifiers or loudspeakers of any kind.
Levchuk said some of the Boardwalk’s young performers are talented but added that there are other entertainers who are “lousy” and would be even more unpleasant to listen to if they used amplifiers.
“What do you do when the music is lousy? Who suffers then? Everybody,” said Levchuk, whose family owns the Jilly’s stores and amusements on the Boardwalk.
Levchuk said the Boardwalk merchants suffer when they have to listen to irritating music for hours on end when they are simply trying to work at their stores.
“It’s ridiculous,” he said.
He added that it is also an annoying experience for the police officers who are stationed on the Boardwalk during the summer and are standing next to some subpar performers.
Fellow Council members Tony Polcini and Karen Bergman strongly agreed with Levchuk, saying that they, too, wouldn’t support Crawford’s proposal for having amplifiers on the Boardwalk.
“With the amount of talent that’s up there, they kind of compete with each other. If you have them up there with speakers, it would be even worse,” Bergman said. “Sometimes, people just want to walk on the Boardwalk. They don’t want to have to listen to something every block with two or three different performers.”
Polcini, who once operated a Boardwalk pizzeria, said parents sometimes will take their children off the Boardwalk if they become annoyed with the performers.
“It’s loud, and they don’t want it,” Polcini said.
Levchuk said he believes it is simply a form of panhandling by having subpar performers on the Boardwalk.
“Let’s face it, if people were good and talented for the most part, I don’t think they would be panhandling on the Ocean City Boardwalk,” he said.
Levchuk, however, did say that he would be in favor of the city finding a lineup of more talented Boardwalk performers to expand Ocean City’s entertainment attractions.
“We’re always looking for things like that,” he said. “There’s all kinds of (entertainment) that we hire for the Boardwalk that the city takes part in. Those acts are insured.”
In 2019, City Council put a damper on excessively loud singing or music on Ocean City’s signature attraction by approving an ordinance that prohibits Boardwalk entertainers from using amplifiers.
City officials said then that the ordinance would strike a balance between the performers’ constitutional right to free expression and the rights of everyone else to enjoy the family-friendly ambiance on the Boardwalk.
The measure was pitched by city officials as a fair compromise for lowering the volume on the Boardwalk without completely muffling the entertainers.
City officials said in 2019 that they were responding to complaints from merchants and the public that the performers are too loud, effectively drowning out the Boardwalk atmosphere with amplified music and singing.
Although stand-alone amplifiers are banned, performers are allowed to use electric keyboards.
During his remarks to Council, Crawford said he understood that his proposal to allow Boardwalk performers to use small amplifiers is “a very sensitive situation.”
Crawford, an Ocean City resident, maintained that he simply wants to draw more visitors to town and recreate the “magic” that was part of the Boardwalk’s entertainment scene when he was a teenager.
“Ocean City might be able to garner a reputation for really good, on-Boardwalk free entertainment that could embellish the experience, improve business and give another reason for people to come and stay on the Boardwalk,” he said.