Friday, 15 February 2013 17:20

You Like to Busk? Eh?

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If you’re either me or Phyllis Young, seventh ward Alderwoman, you probably think the city has a problem with buskers.  If you’re Phyllis Young you probably think there are too many.  If you’re me you probably think there aren’t enough.  But Phyllis Young gets to decree that the cost of a street performance permit should quadruple. 


Now this means that the permit is “only” $100 dollars per year, up from $25, but considering that busking is not the most lucrative profession to begin with this increase could cause a substantial financial burden on already struggling musicians.  She writes off any objections to this increase with a flippant “That's the cost of doing business.”  Going on to claim “There was also a musician in Soulard who was horrible, and neighbors were complaining about all the noise. So we have to balance what's good for performers and what's good for the community.”

The fundamental question here is not an issue of “nuisance” or even of city revenues, but a more fundamental question about what sort of city we all want to live in.  What’s good for our community is a vibrant music scene and a culture that encourages young and talented artists to grow.  St. Louis is a very diverse city—from the inoffensive boutique-y blandness of the central west end to the hardcore punk slumminess of the Cherokee corridor—there’s something here for everyone.  But a great city cannot thrive without music.  And one way of promoting music in a city is to put it right out there on the streets. 

New York doesn’t require a permit for  street performers.  I can count on both hands the famous and significant musicians from St. Louis.  New York’s list would require several phone books.  Simply put, a city that does not value art in its public places does not value art period.  We will never be a breeding ground for great musicians and other performers until we let our musicians do some breeding—figuratively speaking of course.  Club shows and late night bars are great venues for up and coming musicians and St. Louis is home to many fantastic venues, from the hot lights of The Pageant to the sweaty basements of Cherokee.  But these shows in themselves can’t pay for a couch to crash on or 24-packs of Stag for every musician in the city and a lot of talent will be discouraged from pursuing music as a career due to limited options.  Busking, while not a guarantor of income itself, is an excellent way for an aspiring musician to supplement his or her income while honing their skills.  Will there be a few nuisances out there?  No doubt.  Is a poor rendition of “Stairway To Heaven” too heavy a price to pay for a city that values its musicians?  Not in the least.

So, Alderwoman Young, leave those kids alone.  Bring the price of a street performance permit back down to where it was.  Or, better yet, eliminate the need for permits at all.  Disturbing the peace is still illegal, and nuisances can and will be taken care of.  But with a more affordable permit, perhaps a new generation of musicians will strap on their guitars, harmonicas, cellos, congas and glockenspiels to make our city a more musical place.