For musicians, playing live music outdoors can be tricky at times. Weather is often an issue, but oppressive government regulation can be even more difficult to deal with.
Molly Otis Stoddard knows just what it’s like to find yourself on the wrong end of oppressive government regulation. The longtime singer-songwriter, now based in Bayfield, Wisc., used her legal difficulties as a creative wellspring for her new record, “Justified.” The veteran musician – best known as the frontwoman of Molly & The Heymakers in the ‘80s and ‘90s – turned her story of musical censorship into an artistic triumph.
Molly O opened The Pavilion, a wine bar and music venue, in Hayward, Wisc., in 2007. Appreciative fans gathered there to hear Molly and her band play live music inside the building and in her adjacent outdoor courtyard. “The fans who came to The Pavilion to hear us play were appreciative, loyal, and well-mannered people,” she says.
But after a short time, the Hayward city government enacted and then enforced an outdoor music ordinance that put the kibosh on outdoor music at The Pavilion after 10 p.m., regardless of volume. The effect, Molly says, was devastating.
“It’s pretty simple: I was unfairly targeted,” Molly says. “The city officials didn’t like what I was doing so they tried to silence me and my music at The Pavilion.”
“I knew the ordinance was unconstitutional. After my application for a special outdoor music permit was denied in 2010, I decided I’d had enough, so I took the city to court,” she says. The resulting federal court case, which took nearly three years to litigate, centered on the First Amendment rights of musicians.
Molly O was eventually proven right in court, and she won a significant jury verdict. As a result, the court upheld her right to free expression and recognized the city’s wrongdoing.
Though the court battle was exhausting, Molly O’s success left her feeling creatively inspired and ready to dive into writing and recording new music.
Music has been my rock during difficult times, and now it’s time to burst out again.Molly O
After all, it had been nearly two decades since the release of her last album. “I was tired, but I realized I needed to create again in order to get my mojo back,” she says. “I knew exactly who I had to call: Andy Dee.”
Dee, her longtime collaborator and bandmate from the Heymakers days, has blossomed as a Twin Cities-based producer, engineer and multi-instrumentalist. “Andy’s skills in the band and behind the console really brought this record to life,” Molly says.
Recording and writing commenced on the songs that eventually became “Justified” – 11 tracks encapsulating her passions, struggles and triumphs. And where did the title come from?
“When I was in the middle of my court battle, I often faced doubts: ‘Is this worth it?’” Molly says. “I kept going because I knew I was in the right. I knew I was justified in my actions, and I knew my love of music would carry me forward. I also knew that what I had done to stand up against censorship by government was an important example for all musicians.”
It helps, of course, that the Midwest is such a supportive place for musicians. “Through the last few years, I’ve heard from so musicians who supported me during my fight,” Molly says. “It’s been inspiring to see so many familiar faces – and new ones.”
The new record, self-released in fall 2014, kicks off a new phase in Molly’s musical life. Molly O is now diving into writing and recording new music with more passion and a greater depth of experience than ever.
“I’m ready to play shows and spread the word once again,” she says. “Music has been my rock during difficult times, and now it’s time to burst out again.”