Asheville Blade: New regulations for street musicians in downtown Asheville discussed

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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blind_boy_busking_2010Update: From reporter Jake Frankel’s story for the Mountain Xpress, which covered Monday’s meeting of the public safety committee of Asheville City Council. The committee began discussion of new busking rules:

But in the end, (City Council members Chris) Pelly and (Jan) Davis both agreed not to make any recommendations to staff or City Council to pursue any further regulations on busking. Instead, Davis informally encouraged the emerging Asheville Buskers Collective to meet with the Asheville Downtown Association to start a dialogue about how business owners and performers can better work together.

Original post Sept. 22: Reporter David Forbes of The Asheville Blade has an excellent update on a controversy taking shape over possible new rules regarding street musicians in downtown Asheville. Forbes covered a recent meeting of buskers, who were focused on a set of possible regulations that could be in store. Forbes does a nice job of putting this discussion in the context of other discussions focused on more control what happens on downtown Asheville streets as it has become a significant tourist attraction.

Here’s a snippet:

Abby the Spoon Lady asked for a show of hands from the assembled buskers as to how many of them absolutely opposed assigned spots or paid permitting. Nearly every hand shot up immediately.

“I’m not ok with those,” she said.

However, Jessica Tomasin, founder of Asheville Music Professionals, said that she’d spoken extensively with Jon Fillman, the economic development staffer who oversees busking for the city, and that many on city staff have no desire to regulate busking beyond a few particular concerns.

“While this may be proposed from [Stepp] I can tell you that the city doesn’t want to do permitting,” Tomasin said. “They don’t want to regulate this any more than they have to. For them, their concerns are that their have to be some guidelines as to what a street performance actually is.”

She praised Fillman and said she’s worked with him on public events before.

Clearer rules around amplification and what local businesses can do if they have a problem with a busker are another focus of the city, Tomasin noted.

The next step in the process is a 3:30 p.m. meeting on today at City Hall. The public safety committee of Asheville City Council will begin discussion of possible new busking rules.

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

  • 1

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  1. RedHotPoker September 24, 2014

    the tourists surely seem to love the buskers…it does add charm to downtown when the evil rich are there spending money…

  2. Big Al September 24, 2014

    If I were a downtown business owner, I would feel that if anyone should have a say in where and how buskers play (i.e. right on my doorstep) it would be me. But Asheville does not like evil Capitalists (unless they are buskers or food trucks).

    The problem with buskers and transients is the same. Both are legally entitled to hang out in areas designated as public and communal, which includes sidewalks, parks and the areas around public institutions like libraries. The ONLY way to regulate their behavior in these areas is through legislation.

    Where I moved from, panhandlers are regulated. They must pay a fee, wear a safety vest, and are prevented from certain high-risk areas like traffic medians and intersections. When food trucks became all the rage, Asheville immediately instituted regulations to keep them from clogging up downtown or abusing the power and water infrastructure. I do not see why buskers should be treated differently. They are making money while occupying shared space with the public.

    1. Smytty September 24, 2014

      As a downtown business owner near a very popular busking spot, it is usually pleasant or a non-issue, but can be a bit of a pain from time to time. If they were to regulate, I would be in favor of simply allowing talented buskers to play at a reasonable volume.

      Somehow, I doubt that proposal gets off the ground. 🙂

  3. Deborah smith September 24, 2014

    Love the street performers, let them sell their music and leave them alone as much as possible. Not so much the college age panhandlers who come across as thugs with entitlement issues. Have seen them take over street corners, harass drivers, etc.

  4. cwaster September 23, 2014

    I say, let ’em play and sell their music. Free Enterprise and it adds to our town as a tourist destination. There has to be a better and more reasonable way to deal with the ones that are too loud for the folks trying to work though.

  5. JML September 22, 2014

    Buskin’ Blues

  6. FDR September 22, 2014

    I think they should regulate the transient population before they even start to mess with locals playing an instrument.

    1. Jukebox Johnny September 22, 2014

      But all the transients have old time banjos for to busk with! Where do you draw the line?

      Personally, I don’t love the buskers because talent is few and far between with them, and sometimes they block the sidewalk, but I do appreciate their contribution to making Asheville so darn funky for all those tourists looking for an authentic bohemian experience. I think street performers should be permitted or regulated just as any other business or food cart before every street corner gets claimed by a prohibition-era stringband.

    2. Big Al September 24, 2014

      The problem is: how do you differentiate the two? I have seen many a disheveled man sitting alone with a guitar and a plastic picnic cup in front of him. To me, this is a transient pretending to be a busker.

      And how do you “regulate the transient population” in a country where there is no real differentiation between who is a citizen and who is not. When we try to address voter fraud by demanding some form of identification, accusations fly of “suppressing the vote of minorities”.

      If we cannot agree that only people who can be identified as citizens should be able to vote, how can we be expected to identify who belongs in a community and who does not?

      1. matt September 24, 2014


      2. really? September 26, 2014

        And of course there’s Benghazi…. Honestly, if you can’t understand the difference between made up accusations of voter fraud leading to fewer minority votes and gray kids with leather vests harrassing people for money when the weather is nice then disappearing back home when it gets a little chilly please don’t comment as if you do. (Sorry for the run-on sentence)

  7. Santa September 22, 2014

    I disagree with the rules preventing them from offering their music for sale. If their instrument case is open to collect some tips, why can’t they offer a piece of their music for people to take home? It allows that musician to develop a fan base. That’s where I bought my Pierce Edens CD, from the man himself. No harm done.

  8. LEW September 22, 2014

    A lot of the rules look silly to me though I think ‘no amplification’ would be great, especially during office hours. As someone who works downtown across from a popular busking spot I feel very lucky (most of the time) to get to enjoy the street vibe – but when the music is amplified so loud it gives me a headache and makes me want to scream then not so much.

    1. Santa September 22, 2014

      The handful that amplify at all tend to keep it down (so far.) I’m thinking of the really good electric keyboard guy, the guy with the electric fiddle and the guy who plays jazz trumpet to a recorded backup band. They’re pretty respectful with their volume, IMHO.

      The loudest ones are those who’s singing style is more of a SHOUT. There was a black fellow who SHOUTED his songs about 1/2 octave off while playing guitar. It’s so painful it makes me wince. And Bobby Sax. Bobby Sax is just the worst and he’s got no amp. The only thing you can do with that guy is give $5 to please take it down to Malaprops.

      1. ashevillain September 22, 2014

        WTF are you blathering about? Bobby Sax is great. He knows tons of songs, has always been respectful and knows how to please a crowd.

        1. Radio Follower September 22, 2014

          Ashevillain..True. And, Bobby played with some heavy hitters back in the day. It’s my understanding that Bobby’s struggled with addiction, and this is probably his way of staying sober and making a living. BTW, I love the buskers, but do think some basic rules need to be set in place. For instance, amplification after 6pm weekdays and all weekend long. And, let them sell their wares. CD’s can make these folks a few extra bucks. Buskers help make Asheville the unique and special place that attracts people from all over.

      2. JT September 23, 2014

        Bobby Sax has always rubbed me the wrong way. I don’t like the way he plays “at” people then stops once it is obvious they won’t tip.

      3. susie March 6, 2015

        URRRG. So here’s the reality check. The guy with the electric fiddle is the most disrespectful to other buskers out of all of them. Over the last few years MANY MANY of the regular buskers, including the man with the hammer dulcimer, has asked him to turn down. His response has been to get 2nd amp. He’s got no consideration. NONE.

        2nd. The guy with the trumpet and the track… IS a panhandler, running up to tourists and selling him his CD while hes walking down the street with his horn IN his case. I heard him say AWFUL THINGS to an old lady once, for not buying one, making her cry.

        3rd. I LOVE BOBBY SAX


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