Crackdown on Asheville street musicians continues, busker claims

Jason Sandford

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

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buskers_asheville_march_2015The 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.

Jason Sandford

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

  • 1

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  1. nobodeuno August 18, 2016

    I believe busking to be a rich part of any community….as one person stated here Asheville has become well known as an artist’s city. Full of diversity and culture. I also believe that this has attracted homeless folks who are not talented and have no ambition to better themselves in life. I also believe several things are important for any street performer…”talent, decency, manners and respect for others”. Having said that, there needs to be rules. Permits (free) and specific locations that don’t infringe on businesses in any manner. Having visited both London and Paris, where they have very specific permits, locations and rules that work very well for buskers of any kind! I too am a musician.

  2. Chris April 27, 2015

    Buskers should be welcomed with reasonable restrictions on their behavior. In my opinion amplification an electronic enhancements should not be allowed. This would not only minimize the area directly affected by the performer but also level the playing field among performers. Additionally (imo) it keeps the spirit of performance more authentic and fitting with the vibe of our town.

  3. Jen April 18, 2015

    As long as they have a permit I don’t have an issue. Just like people that make crafts and sell them, or other handmade goods, the buskers should have a permit and stick to the rules.
    Some people just play trash and it is really hard to listen to.

    1. Jen April 18, 2015

      Some people just find an instrument and start making noise without knowing how to play. That isn’t busking.

      1. cwaster April 20, 2015

        I’m all for busking and selling CD’s. American entrepreneurship and all.

        But- that being said, I do have to agree with the unbathed, unshaven, drunken degenerates who can’t play or carry a tune in a bucket comments. Some of these people are such poor musicians I’d almost pay for them to shut up, if I could afford to. It is like having bums with an instrument. For every good musician, there are five that suck and smell bad. which takes away from those who actually work hard and have talent, especially the locals.

        It’s a complicated issue. Some vetting process and permitting might be in order. It’s important to keep it affordable for the average joe though.

  4. Avg. Joe April 17, 2015

    My thought is the cops go around all the time, pissed off about their haircuts. Crackin’ hippie heads is just an energy outlet.

    1. indie April 17, 2015

      You still think its 1968? Snap out of it.

      1. Big Al April 18, 2015

        Ditto. At least 1960s hippies believed in something other than profit. Asheville’s buskers are too loud, take up too much space, and act far more entitled and self-important than they are talented. I don’t suggest we get rid of them altogether, but there should be some form of regulation to limit their noise and crowding. Perhaps a permit lottery and some kind of vetting for quality. I am tired of stepping around a bum with a guitar and a cup for change every 50 feet on Friday night.

  5. indie499 April 16, 2015

    Word has it that the stepped up police involvement is due to business complaints about blocked access and excessive volume.

    The city should have with debate, redo the rules and get on with it. This isn’t a moon shot. Define some spaces, allow CD sales and pick a decibel level. The end.

    1. Harry April 17, 2015

      Bingo Indie. I’d only add that they should have to obtain a peddler’s license in order to sell CD’s

  6. FDR April 16, 2015

    Lets not forget when the Buskers camp out right under your window at work and you have deadlines to meet. No matter how shut your windows are, you will still smell cigarette smoke and hear some sort of screaming/singing, and maybe, just maybe a tuned instrument. All this to keep Asheville weird and unproductive.

    1. chris April 17, 2015

      Because your job is so much more important than theirs.

      Perhaps we need a “Keep Asheville Undouchebaggy” campaign.

      1. NMH April 17, 2015

        Chill Chris. FDR didn’t say his job was more important than theirs. All he said was he couldn’t get his done. It sounds like the Buskers are the ones who dont give a sh*t about anyone else.

      2. Harry April 17, 2015

        FDR’s job is surely more important because FDR actually HAS a job.

        1. Mike April 18, 2015

          With all due respect to the buskers and the people who work downtown…

          It is really difficult to work when a band of people are playing loudly right outside of your window. And while I’m not saying that my job is more important than theirs, I have signed a lease in a business district, which in theory is a place where reasonable noise levels will be maintained so as to create conditions for doing business. In the same way that it would be unreasonable for someone to go to a bar or other music venue, and then complain that it’s difficult to work or make phone calls, I think it’s unreasonable for a musician to go to a business district and cry foul when people ask for moderate levels.

          The key here is that we have a spot to compromise. Pritchard park is a venue where people can play, and is unlikely to preclude other people from working. It would be great to find some level of common acknowledgement and respect for both sides, as opposed to bullying those who are in a bind because they can’t conduct the business necessary to maintain their livelihood.

          Love music, love Asheville, and love buskers… But I also love being able to pay my bills as a result of the work I do downtown.

          1. chris April 18, 2015

            So you are making the argument that the buskers are preventing or will prevent you from making a living and paying your bills?

            Or are you saying that you’re gonna have to quit your job because you don’t like to hear the buskers playing?

            You know how damn stupid either argument sounds?

        2. chris April 18, 2015

          Tell that to the millions of aspiring musicians across the country, you shuttered dimwit.

          1. Mike April 18, 2015


            I’m making the argument that community requires some level of respect and accepted norms. It’s unreasonable to go see a band at a bar, and ask them to be quiet. It’s unreasonable to go into a restaurant, and bring your own food. It’s unreasonable to drive slow in the fast lane, speak loudly in a library, or talk on your cell phone in small, crowded places. I’m for buskers, creative freedom, and don’t care who sells CD’s… But I’m also stating that the downtown business community and the people paying rent to be there, deserve a place that’s reasonably conducive to doing business. Having reasonable noise ordinances during business hours, in a business district, seems a reasonable ask, regardless of my ‘shuttered dimwittedude’.

            The ironic part, is that for all of your alleged tolerance and open mindedness for safeguarding the premise of individuality, you seem to have little interest in actually understanding the complexity of the issue, other viewpoints, or identifying compromise. Good luck with that. My guess is that the buskers will fare better without your assistance, as most of them who I’ve spoken with, actually do understand both sides, and would like to find a compromise that legitimately works for both sides.

          2. chris April 18, 2015

            You aren’t the shuttered dimwit. That, of course, is Harry.

          3. chris April 18, 2015

            And oh, I never professed any tolerance or openmindedness for your argument that, essentially, the buskers should be corralled in Pritchard Park, to keep them away from the bizness folk.

            And wow, you _are_ actually making the argument that you just can’t do your business because of people playing music. Please, take that argument to the City! They should hear it at once!

          4. Mike April 18, 2015

            Yep, when people are playing amplified music downtown, or in a large group, in the middle of the day… It’s hard to do business. In general, it’s difficult to do much of anything but hear them. And some of them are great, just not when the volume is intrusive to the point of overwhelming any activity outside of being in their band.

            I can imagine that if you are in a room filled with people, and you insist on shouting, anyone politely asking you to turn the volume down would be seen as infringing on your right to free speech. I think you’re missing the point, but to your point about the city, I think it’s exactly what they need to hear…

            That people want creative freedom, music and varying lifestyles downtown, but also want to find a sustainable balance where they can reasonably coexist.

          5. Harry April 19, 2015

            While there certainly are some talented musicians busking, the streets are dominated by unbathed, unshaven, drunken degenerates who can’t play or carry a tune in a bucket. My guess is that you are one of them. Chris, you are still a little pecker head.

  7. cwaster April 16, 2015

    I don’t see what the big deal is about selling cd’s. Who cares? They are trying to make a buck and be American entrepreneurs. Let them.

    This new enforcement policy is obviously targeted at the “scruffy” buskers, and is yet another result of gentrification. I mean, if they suck as musicians, then nobody will give them money and they’ll leave right?

  8. Buck Trotsky April 15, 2015

    It’s not the words “You can’t sell CDs on the street” that are hard to understand.
    It’s that anybody could be so heartless as to create or support such a law.
    Or that anybody could be bothered in the least by musicians selling their CDs.
    That’s what’s hard to understand.

    1. Sean April 15, 2015

      You’re so right. I toss and turn at night with the thoughts of the pure unconscionable horror of not being able to sell CDs on the sidewalk. I’ve considered reaching out to Amnesty International in the hopes of some relief that they may be able to provide.

      Get a grip. The officers are doing their job. So enforcement in the past has been lacking, and now it’s not. Perhaps you should be asking why that is. Could it be that there may be a founded concern?

      1. Josh April 15, 2015

        The point is that the city doesn’t hesitate to use the weird novelty of our busking scene to market Asheville to tourists (the ExploreAsheville booklet’s front cover has a picture of Big Nasty Jazz Band in front of the noodle shop, complete with CDs for sale in their guitar case), but when it comes to actually selling CDs, the hypocrisy and lack of cohesion in the city’s policy emerges.

        It wasn’t as big a deal before because the police never enforced it, and that worked great for everyone. Now, the tune is changing. The point of this is, Asheville is now internationally renowned for its street music. It’s a major tourist draw, much like New Orleans’ street music, and when the authorities keep their engagement with it low key, it thrives. The music is good, the money is good, crowds are happy, and everyone wins.

        By curtailing busking, the city is shooting themselves in the foot. This is how scenes start die, and we all have a lot to lose if the scene dies out. It’ll rock the economy of this town if the tourism is no longer enough to sustain Asheville’s recent growth. Busking is a huge part of creating the aesthetic that sets Asheville apart as something novel, and all the city has to do is step back and let us excel at what we do. I don’t think it’s so much to ask

        1. Stephan April 16, 2015

          I just want to clarify that the City and ExploreAsheville are two completely separate entities. The City doesn’t market to tourists and ExploreAsheville doesn’t enforce laws or policies.

          Not that your point about the City shooting itself in the foot isn’t valid, it’s just an important distinction that gets lost in these comments sometimes.

        2. NFB April 16, 2015

          Explore Asheville is affiliated with the Asheville Chamber of Commerce NOT the city of Asheville itself. The police are not a part of the COC.

          Granted it is hard to tell the difference between the local Chamber of Commerce and city government, but to say that the city is using buskers in its marketing isn’t really the case.

        3. Sean April 16, 2015

          I call BS. The premise that the street performers are somehow integrally linked to the rise and fall of the economic vitality of the downtown core is specious argument. The throngs came well before there was some dude sitting on the sidewalk strumming a guitar, and they will continue.

          This isn’t about stamping them out. It is about them adhering the an established set of rules. And crying about an alleged “police crackdown” veiled as some nefarious gentrification scheme on the part of the ubiquitous “THEY” is childish. The rules are what they are. If you succeed in changing them, good for you. Until then, the rules are still the rules. Grow up.

  9. Josh April 15, 2015

    The tickets have not just been for selling CDs. It’s a broad range of selective interpretation of several different ordinances, targeting mostly travelling (but a few local) buskers. They’ve also been hovering way more than they did in the past. Dunno if you’ve ever tried to work with a police officer staring at you before, but it’s not easy.

    It’s also a dramatic change in policy from how busking ordinances have been enforced in the past (rather loosely, which is why the scene has become so good). And it’s sure scaring travelling buskers off the street (a bunch of good ones, too).

    You can’t condense this issue down into the black and white of “There are laws, and you’re breaking them.” Jaywalking is law everyone breaks constantly, and it’s almost never enforced except for circumstances where it’s really appropriate. Why? Because everyone knows it’s not that big of a deal.

    That’s the way the busking dynamic has been up until recently. The tourists love us and most of the locals do, too, and the police generally haven’t made a point to scrutinize us, presumably because buskers making a decent living doesn’t cause problems for anyone. Recently, they’ve been behaving differently. I’ll leave you to find the smoking gun here.

  10. Chris Power April 15, 2015

    Really! Don’t they (the police) have more important things to take care of instead of ticketing street musicians? “A couple of officers have said you guys are the real performers, you’re OK, but…” So, maybe they need to ticket (or not ticket) based on the musician’s level of performance and skills. 😉 What a joke!

  11. indie499 April 15, 2015

    Damn cops doing their jobs. How hard is this for buskers to understand:

    You can’t sell CDs on the street.

    Is one of those words too hard to understand? Is it the way the words are grouped?

  12. Downtown Julie April 14, 2015

    I respect buskers, I support buskers, I believe in busking. What I don’t support are poseur buskers who are barely passable as musicians. They bring the whole idea of street musicians down to the lowest common denominator. To be blunt: they suck. I have the same feelings for anyone that wants to front bullshit and expect me to pay for it. You wanna support a bunch of travelling kids? Take them home, give them some beer, let them jam all night. Downtown is over run with these fuckers, I think of them as Europeans view gypsies: they are here to scam and steal. If the cops have to set a precedent, so be it. I want REAL musicians, like those one would see in any city. I don’t think that’s being insensitive, it’s just being fair.

    1. Sean April 20, 2015

      Exactly. If the musicians that claim to be supporting themselves downtown with their talent and showmanship really care about crafting an ordinance that will allow them to do so with business owner and resident support, they will address the issue you raise.

      I liken it to the cycling community. Do your part to demonstrate that you will share the road in a lawful and equitable way, and you will be supported by motorists. The counter to that statement is typically “A lot of car drivers break the law, too”, and that argument is partially true. However, if the percentage of motorists violating red light and stop sign laws were equal to those on the part of cyclists, it would be mayhem.

      Long story short, the real musicians and entertainers need to step up and take responsibility for distancing themselves from the street kids that show up here every year if they want to demonstrate a serious devotion to the prosperity of downtown.


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