Ashvegas reader: Asheville police cracked down on busking and it ruined my visit

Jason Sandford

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

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buskers2Here’s a note that a loyal Ashvegas reader sent me Friday. It was a beautiful spring day to kick off Easter weekend, and visitors swarmed downtown Asheville avenues. Street performers were also out in force – their first big day to get out and busk.

New regulations governing street performers in Asheville has been a hot topic of debate since last year, when Asheville City Council backed off adopting new rules after a public outcry from buskers and their supporters. Since then, the Asheville Downtown Association has been working with newly organized buskers under the Asheville Busker Collective umbrella to reach agreement on some regulations. A key sticking point is whether or not buskers can be allowed to sell their music on the street.

The Downtown Association’s suggested changes have been submitted to Asheville City Council’s public safety committee for review. That committee will decide what to pass along to the full council for consideration. A spokeswoman for the Downtown Association spokeswoman tells me “We believe in the buskers,” adding that they’ve been great to work on this issue.

Here’s the reader note:

I moved to weaverville from s.fl 4 years ago. I have only been downtown several times. The last time I was there the performers didn’t seem out of control and aactually made My visit better. It was even the day that women had the topless rallies. That was a bit too much. Had to cover my 10 year olds eyes. Couldn’t believe APD didn’t do anything about it.

Today was my first time back since. I brought my, wife, son and visiting dad. The police were really cracking down on the performers. They made them stop and move on. We must have seen four to five different incidents of the APD writing tickets to performers. Then they would move on and as soon as the Police left another performer took the newly vaccated spot.

It took the charm out of our visit today. I realize there is a vagrant issues, but there needs to be a solution that will work for both parties. Three parties if you include visitors that come to the city for fun. Yes, I believe there should be areas where performers can occupy and visitors can enjoy them. I also know if you let one perform that you will have to let anyone else perform. A true conundrum.

What do you know about the APD policy on street performers? What I witnessed today was that under any circumstance performers are no longer welcome.

Is there a way performers can get a permit or time slot to work in different areas without police harassment?

Can a committee be formed to work this out. It’s part of what makes downtown Asheville so much more eccentric.

And here are the recommendations the Downtown Association has sent to city officials for review. I’ve bolded the parts that are the changes proposed:

Sec. 16-141. – Definitions.

The following words, terms and phrases, when used in this article, shall have the meanings ascribed to them in this section, except where the context clearly indicates a different meaning:

Biltmore Village Historic District means the overlay zoning district designated by that name in Appendix 7-E of this Code, described therein and outlined on the official zoning map of the city. Central Business District means the general use zoning district defined by that name in chapter 7 of this Code and outlined on the official zoning map of the city.

Merchandise includes, but is not limited to, plants, flowers, wearing apparel, jewelry, ornaments, art work, household or office supplies, food or beverages of any kind, whether or not for immediate consumption, or other goods or wares. Office and business uses correspond to the use tables found in Chapter 7, Article VIII of the Unified Development Ordinance.

Outdoor dining area means an area in front of or adjacent to a restaurant and located on a public sidewalk or square whereon tables, chairs or benches are placed for dining purposes.

Outdoor merchandise area means an area in front of or adjacent to a retail business where merchandise is located on a public sidewalk for the purpose of displaying, exhibiting, selling or offering for sale merchandise.

Pushcart means a wheeled cart which may be moved by one person without the assistance of a motor and which is designed and used for displaying, keeping or storing any food, beverages or other articles for sale by a vendor.

Sidewalk means all that area legally open to public use as a pedestrian public way between the curb line and the public right-of-way boundary along the abutting property.

Sidewalk entertainment means performances which may include, but not be limited to, music, dance, mimes, magicians, clowns, jugglers, tarot card readers and theatrical presentations, but specifically excluding speeches, lectures, and sermons.

(Ord. No. 3024, 5-27-03; Ord. No. 3266, § 1(a), 7-26-05)

Cross reference— Definitions and rules of construction generally, § 1-2.

Sec. 16-145. – Performers of sidewalk entertainment.

Performers of sidewalk entertainment shall meet the following requirements:


Not violate the prohibitions on disturbing, annoying and unnecessary noise as set forth in article IV of chapter 10 of the Code.

(2) Not violate the prohibitions on solicitation as set forth in City Code section 11-5 and 11-14

**Clarification that signage is not prohibited in the above ordinance.


Not obstruct or cause to be obstructed pedestrian or vehicular traffic, including but not limited to not obstructing or causing to be obstructed sidewalks, doorways or other access areas. Entertainer must provide a minimum of 6 feet of pedestrian passageway.

**Recommendation: Asheville Buskers Collective to impose a self-regulation policy. This policy will be communicated through a guide to busking etiquette to be produced by the collective.

As part of the self-regulation protocol, the sidewalk entertainer/s will ask the crowd to create a clear path to not obstruct walkways or business/access areas. The entertainer will also direct crowd to stay out of the street.


The sale of records, tapes or other products shall not be permitted.


1) Allow for the sale of only original music during performance, must be professionally displayed

2) City staff to investigate an online permitting system allowing for the sale of only original music during the time of performance


Perform only at times between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m.


Not consume nor be under the influence of alcoholic beverages or other controlled substances while performing, in compliance with the North Carolina laws and regulations.


Not perform any closer than 40 feet from another performance.

**Change of verbiage allows for more than one performer, groups/bands.


Not perform at locations designated for a community event or festival, unless permitted to play at the community event or festival by the event or festival coordinator, pursuant to section 16-97 of the Code.


Comply with all federal, state and local laws when performing within the city, including but not limited to, the solicitation ordinance and the noise ordinance.

Jason Sandford

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

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  1. Daniel April 7, 2015

    I was robbed at gun point, downtown in January. Maybe they should be more worried about incidents like that, rather than buskers. Just my two cents.

  2. Downtown Julie April 5, 2015

    Rather than regulate the buskers, how about we just rate them like one of those chef competitions? Those that get voted out can’t perform, those that get voted in get to stay. Clear out the crap, let the true artists get their just due.

    Also, I’ve seen some of the same acts year after year: lame wash-board hillbilly music in front of Woolworth Walk, the girl with the painted silver dress, the dude with the electric violin, really basic acoustic covers, et al. If they suck, they go!

    And while we’re at it, how about a time limit on how many seasons you can be here. And how about a rating for dress and body odor? If you want my money for your busking, take the time to comb your fucking hair and wash your dirty arm pits!

  3. david April 5, 2015

    If anyone has misconceptions regarding APD cracking down on Buskers just go downtown and see for yourselves. Better yet, talk to them about what’s happening.

    As for saying people that live outside of Asheville or visit downtown seldom should not voice concerns is a bit elitist.

    1. Sean April 6, 2015

      I don’t have any misconceptions at all. Despite the original author’s failure to specify at all what was actually occurring, and their knee-jerk speculation concerning what the police were doing, I have no doubt in my mind that the officers were ensuring that the performers were entertaining per the ordinance rules. Could those rules change in the future? Sure. Does that mean that we just throw the current ones out of the window and say the hell with them until then? Don’t be ridiculous.

      As for the discounting of their “concerns” being “elitist”, so be it. The concerns of business owners and downtown residents should resonate more with the police force than those of an anonymous letter writer on a blog.

  4. ron ogle April 5, 2015

    Do the prohibitions on solicitation as set forth in City Code section 11-5 and 11-14 clarify that there are no prohibitions against “performing without soliciting” ?

  5. Hoooorse April 5, 2015

    I hear they have a lot of great street performers in South Florida. Maybe you should move back down there so you can enjoy all of the great culture.

  6. Elvis Presley Costello April 5, 2015

    $#%^! the police

  7. Tom April 4, 2015

    What makes a busker guard his busk? Courage.

  8. murphy April 4, 2015

    I was downtown on Friday afternoon, and there seemed to be plenty of performers out and about…

  9. Lee April 4, 2015

    If this person appreciates the “eccentricity” of downtown Asheville, why don’t they provide their address so performers can go an perform in front of their home? As a downtown resident, it’s become a never-ending stream of people who have nothing better to do with their time and marginal talent than to set up shop in front of our homes. Asheville has enough going on – from its stores to its natural beauty – that it doesn’t need a “busker a block” to make it desirable.

  10. micky mouse April 4, 2015

    I`m a local. I think its funny that the people who are complaining about everything, are the same people who brought all these problems with them. and if the tourists don’t like it that’s good too. maybe they wont come back to support these weirdos and they will also leave.

  11. Marc April 4, 2015

    It’s disappointing to see the police treating street performers like panhandlers. The APD seem to be strongly enforcing a poorly written ordinance that city council is in the process of changing. Plus Asheville could use the police’s attention elsewhere. A friend of mine was mugged downtown on Biltmore Avenue the very same Friday that the police were busy shutting down street performers.

  12. Andrew Fletcher April 4, 2015

    It seems that the busking crackdown is not complaint driven, but comes from the police department choosing to enforce a poorly written ordinance… right before City Council is going to get a chance to rewrite it.

    As far as policing goes, they claim to be understaffed downtown, yet they choose to prioritize minor violations of a law every party admits is poorly written. Police leadership needs to be reminded of their public safety priorities and direct street cops to direct their limited time and resources elsewhere.

    1. James April 4, 2015

      Where did you get the idea that enforcement of the busking ordinance, or any other “minor violation” in the downtown business district is not complaint driven? Are you suggesting that the police officers downtown enforce these ordinances because they want to, and that they are even more motivated now because city council has the “chance to rewrite it”? Do you know any police officers that work downtown, or anywhere else for that matter, that can substantiate that? It is not difficult for the council to approve changes to the city ordinance. If you are unhappy with the ordinance, then the city council shoulders the blame. Furthermore, I can confidently say that the majority of the enforcement of nuisance crimes downtown is indeed complaint driven. If you’d like to see for yourself, you can file a FOIA request for all of the emails that are sent back and forth regarding these complaints. Maybe you are right and the police department should just “choose” to disregard these complaints.

      1. david millette April 4, 2015

        I think you are a police informant an don’t know what you are talking about

      2. Sean April 4, 2015

        You should be confident in your assessment, James, because you’re right. It’s complaint-based.

        According to the writer (and somewhat, by proxy, Ashvegas) the actual voiced concerns of downtown business owners and residents should be disregarded in light of a non-specific complaint from a person that neither lives nor owns a business in Asheville, much less downtown.

        1. Josh April 5, 2015

          Enforcement of the noise ordinance is complaint based, but all the others that pertain to buskers are typically enforced at the officer’s discretion. Let me run the relevant ones down for you.

          1. Leave a 6 foot walkway for pedestrians
          2. Keep your crowds out of the street
          3. Don’t solicit for tips
          4. Don’t sell or display merchandise (this one is selectively interpreted frequently)
          5. Don’t set up within 40 feet of another busker.
          6. All dogs on a leash in your hand at all times. (This does not pertain specifically to buskers, but as far as I’ve witnessed, it’s almost exclusively invoked with street kids. Not completely unreasonable, but I don’t like that it’s used to put pressure on a specific subculture that they deem “undesirable”)

          Now, busking is protected free speech. We don’t need a permit or permission to express ourselves on public property. Even if I’m the crustiest trainhopper you’ve ever seen, it is completely legal for me to be on public property and perform. This should be pretty cut and dry, but it’s not always enforced that way.

          There are certain entities within the city who have a pretty draconian outlook on what to do about “vagrants”. This is nothing new. Selectively interpreting vague ordinances in order to derive some kind of authority over travelling kids is nothing new, either. As far as I can tell from the word circulating around downtown, that’s what this appears to be.

  13. Helen April 4, 2015

    We need the buskers. City council needs to backdown and APD needs to work on getting the hookers off the streets.

    1. Tim April 4, 2015

      Why are you picking on the hookers? They have just as much right as the buskers to show their wares on the sidewalk.

  14. Sean April 4, 2015

    So this person lives in Weaverville (not Asheville) and wants to be on a committee to keep downtown “eccentric.” But not too eccentric, like having topless women running around.

    The writer also has no idea if the performers were actually ticketed, what they were ticketed for, or gives any other explanation. Other than, of course, that the police were “cracking down.”

    You’re better than this, Jason.

    1. Nate April 4, 2015

      The part of this that boggles me is that someone could live just 10 miles away but still only visit downtown Asheville “several times” over the last four years.

      1. Jtroop April 4, 2015

        Agreed, I live and Weaverville and if I go more than a day or two without getting my dwtnAVL fix, I feel like I’m missing something.

      2. Mike April 6, 2015

        Not boggling, at all. I’ve lived in Buncombe County for 25 of the past 31 years, and in Madison and Yancey counties for the first six of those 31, and I’ve visited downtown Asheville, on average, once or twice a year over the past decade. (By “visited,” I mean that I went downtown specifically to shop or dine or walk around seeing the sights; I have driven *through* parts of downtown on the way to or from other destinations on many occasions.)

      3. SWNC April 7, 2015

        Not surprising at all to me. I’ve lived in Asheville for 15 years and if it weren’t for Pack Library, I’d very seldom go downtown. I can’t afford the stores and with two little kids, I don’t eat out much. Not everyone is into the downtown scene, and that’s fine.


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