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How does entertainment licensing work?

Last updated: 9/7/17

How does entertainment licensing work?

Learn about the different laws and requirements for getting a license, and what happens if you get a violation. 

Our division handles all entertainment licensing for the City. Businesses must get licensed for certain entertainment events. You'll need to get a license if:

  • You have a Common Victualler or Alcohol license and are hosting a public show.
  • You're hosting a public show and you plan to charge an admission fee.
  • You're hosting a free public show, but patrons need to pay for certain activities with coins, like an arcade.
Still have questions? Contact:
Consumer Affairs and Licensing
1 City Hall Square
Room 817
Boston, MA 02201-2039
United States

What are public shows?

Public shows are concerts, dance exhibitions, cabarets, and other events.

Some of these events include:
  • dancing, whether by performers or patrons
  • recorded or live music
  • an amplification system
  • a theatrical play or a film screening
  • a floor show or light show, or
  • any other audio or visual show.

Regulations for events

We grant licenses as long as your event meets our regulations. We check to see if your event violates any laws, codes, or ordinances in the City, or creates any hazards by:

  • increasing pedestrian or vehicle traffic
  • increasing disruptive or illegal activities in the area, or
  • increasing the noise level in the area.

We won't give you a license if your event violates any of these regulations. We also have more information about license regulations. Before giving you a license, we may hold a hearing or ask you to meet certain conditions.

When do we hand out violations?

If you break any of the conditions of your license, we’ll give you a violation. A violation comes in a couple of different forms:

  • we may give you a warning
  • we may place you on probation with the City, or
  • we may suspend or revoke your license.

We'll hold a hearing and go over any police reports from your event. Some examples of violations include overcrowding, disruptive incidents, or illegal activities. If you disagree with a violation, you can appeal to Suffolk County Superior Court.