Bessemer juke joint back open, playing by the rules

BESSEMER, Ala. (WIAT) – It’s been called one of the last juke joints in Alabama if not the country. Last week a crowd packed Bessemer City Hall to show support for Gip’s Place.

The Saturday before Bessemer Police shut down a weekend event at Gip’s Place.

The mayor and city attorney say there have been complaints about noise, litter, parking and disorderly guests from neighbors around Gip’s Place, which is in Henry “Gip” Gipson’s back yard.

Music lovers are quick to call it a treasure that draws musical tourists from around the world.

They say it’s also a part of history that should be protected.

Henry “Gip” Gipson is fighting for his right to host parties.

The City of Bessemer is standing firm on its laws.

Saturday there was music, but the hosts were being careful not to break the rules.

“I’m not taking down on what I said,” said Henry “Gip” Gipson.

They won’t give up the music, but they may have to turn it down. The Bessemer City Attorney says Gip’s Place was being run as a business in a residential area and causing problems in the neighborhood.

“One neighbor complained about she went out to get her newspaper on a Sunday morning and found someone passed out in her driveway,” said Shan Paden, Bessemer City Attorney.

The tradition of Saturday night music get-togethers at Gip’s Place stretches back more than fifty years, according to his supporters.

In recent years its popularity has grown and so have the size of the crowds.

“They’ve been promoting it like you would a commercial business. And since that’s happened more and more people have been going there and it’s creating more and more of a problem,” said Paden.

“I mean you could have someone come to your house and you could have a party in your back yard. I could do the same thing, but when it gets to the point that you’re selling products or charging cover charges to get in, well then it becomes a commercial activity. And then you need a business license and you need to be in a commercial district. I think that’s what happened here.”

Things were different at Gip’s Place this past Saturday.

“This past Saturday night it is my understanding that they did not charge a cover charge, that they did not sell merchandise, that they did not sell food, that they parked off of the street that they quit at 11 p.m. that they did not violate the noise ordinance. Now that’s the first time in my understanding that the activities at 3101 Avenue C in Bessemer have been conducted in that manner. If they are conducted in that manner, that’s more consistent with a backyard party. If they go back to operating as a business enterprise then that’s when we’ll have to seek actions,” said Paden.

Bessemer’s noise ordinance prohibits music that is loud enough to be heard from more than fifty feet away, according to Paden.

“If you follow the law there won’t be a problem. If you don’t follow the law there will be a problem with the police,” said Paden.

“Well I would hope is that we all can come to agreement. I’ve been here too long for this to happen,” said Henry “Gip” Gipson, Gip’s Place.

“People are not going to, to be selling food which of course raises questions of because it’s commercial and also because you need license for it to have the health department inspections. Parking we all recognize it’s not the issue of parking per se, but to make sure that emergency vehicles can get through if necessary,” said David Gespass, attorney for Gip.

Paden says Bessemer Police were near Gip’s Place performing license checks last Saturday.

“They knew we were there if we needed to enforce the law because, you know Gip had basically said at the city council meeting I’m going to be open.  I’m going to keep doing what I was doing. Well you know……we’ll see,” said Paden.

“It’s certainly an option to go to court and certainly an option for the police department to issue citations for the noise ordinance. There are a lot of options out there and we will enforce the laws. I don’t want there to be any mistake about that. The City of Bessemer is going to enforce all of its laws,” said Paden.

David Gespass says the attorneys representing Gip won’t rule out going to court either.

“We don’t want that to happen because it’s time consuming, it’s difficult, and everybody takes risks if we do that, but as I say there’s a team of us who are prepared to go to bat for Gip if we have to,” said Gespass.

“I think that we’re going to continue to talk to the city because we want some clarification about some of their concerns and we want to clarify our position on them and try to work towards an accommodation. I would note by the way that when they’ve announced that there’s not going to be any cover, people can get in free- that’s certainly going to encourage larger crowds to come.  And I would emphasize that this is still Gip’s property and he could say who is or is not allowed on it,” said Gespass.

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