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Neighbors sing different tune about church music festival

| Friday, July 4, 2003

Neighbors and owners of the Church of Universal Love and Music are bracing for an influx of rock bands and fans this weekend -- but for different reasons.

Landowner William D. Pritts sounded more conciliatory Thursday and, after speaking with his lawyer, said he wants to resolve the dispute arising from his continued failure to secure necessary permits to operate a commercial music venue in a rural field in northern Fayette County.

County Judge Steve Leskinen issued sanctions Wednesday that include a $500 daily fine for continued operations at the venue near the community of Bear Rocks in Bullskin Township.

After Pritts bought the former farm plot, he petitioned for a zoning exemption to hold concerts there. After failing to secure the necessary permits, he opened the property as a campground and had concerts anyway. After litigation last year, Pritts changed the name of the property to the Universal Church of Love and Music and started taking donations in lieu of an admission charge. However, Leskinen ruled that the donations were compulsory, and therefore, a sham.

But the four-day, 18-band show will go on, complete with a wedding Saturday and a sermon Sunday morning. Pritts said he will pursue legal action against the county after the event concludes.

Neighbors, meanwhile, said they're bracing for drunken, rude revelers who they fear will clog roads, drive unsafely, and make a lot of noise that disturbs their quiet way of life.

"Do we have to live like this on our own property and spend our advancing years in fear?" asked Phyllis Geshinsky, who has lived on her husband's 140-acre farm for 50 years.

When Pritts, a Mt. Pleasant feed store owner, bought the 147-acre property next to the Geshinsky farm in 2000, Ed Geshinsky said he went about things all the wrong way.

"If he would have been reasonable, he would have gotten help from us," he said.

His wife says it differently:

"He's so far out, he's strange," Phyllis Geshinsky said.

The Geshinskys can see the top of the church's sound stage from the back porch of the home Ed's grandfather built when the area was dotted with smaller farms, many owned by former coal miners with Polish surnames. They have let their property grow brambles and bushes to discourage trespassers rather than lease it to be farmed.

"And that's not right. It's there; it ought to be used," said Ed Geshinsky.

The couple plans to spend $3,000 or more to pay two security guards to monitor their property during this weekend's four-day "freedom festival."

Other neighbors, who refuse to give their names, said Pritts' feel-good belief system of worshipping through music lacks the structure and legitimate theology of a real church.

"Who are we worshipping here, Bob Marley?" asked one neighbor, who refused to give his name.

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