The Asheville Police Department crackdown on street musicians has continued since late March when the weather warmed, according to one street musician active on downtown streets and an organizer of a group, the Asheville Buskers Collective, working with city officials on new rules for street performers.
Handpan player Josh Newton’s report follows an Ashvegas reader’s recent note that he observed police writing a handful of tickets to Asheville street performers, events that “took the charm out of our visit.”
Police were handing out more tickets last weekend, according to Newton (who clarifies that he’s unsure if they were warning tickets or tickets with fines for selling CDs), an active member of the collective, which has been working with city officials for the last six to eight months to revise regulations governing buskers on city streets. Asheville City Council’s public safety committee is set to review recommendations agreed upon by the Asheville Downtown Association and Asheville Busker Collective in two weeks. The next step would be for any rules changes to go before the full City Council.
“What it seems like to me is the police department is trying to influence the dynamic early,” Newton said Monday. “A couple of officers have said you guys are the real performers, you’re OK, but let us handle the kids coming” from out of town, Newton said. Every year, Asheville sees an influx of “travelers” – young, train-hopping vagabonds who, in many cases, intentionally live on the streets of cities they visit. This group appeared to be the focus of much of the police activity, Newton said.
There are several new officers on Asheville streets, Newton added, and they appeared to be “hovering” around buskers last weekend. They wrote tickets to buskers they saw selling CDs on the street, a key sticking point in the recent negotiations about what should be allowed under revamped rules.
Newton said buskers and city officials have had a good working relationship, and he wants to maintain that. The proposed rule changes are “a good start. It’s not where we are going to finish,” he said.
Newton sees the regulations in a broader context, as well.
“Are we going to gentrify ourselves out of existence? What is downtown for? There’s this ragtag culture of artists, and we’re still putting ourselves out there and we can’t be priced out of that, but the city’s policies toward its growth” appear to be to do just that, Newton said.