April 24, 2015
This past Friday, April 24, The Asheville Buskers Collective held a music walk/demonstration beginning at 5 p.m. at the Thomas Wolf Auditorium and reaching its crescendo at an assembly and music jam just outside the facade of the Asheville Art Museum at Pack Square. Numerous performers, from musicians to living statues, attended the rally. At the final destination, artists and local supporters gave speeches touting the importance of the music community and its cultural contribution to the city of Asheville. The event was held in response to the recent crackdown by local law enforcement, and particularity by new recruits to the Asheville Police Department, targeting a number of street performers for panhandling.
Gathering outside the Thomas Wolf Auditorium
Waiting for more to arrive
Living Statue Dade Murphy
The gathering was organized by several well established buskers that have been integral in coordinating the collective. This includes percussionist Josh Newton, violinist Marc Hennessey, and Abby Roach (Abby the Spoon Lady). They, along with others, have been in negotiations with the city in trying to establish guidelines that can bring a certain order to busking outwith the city of Asheville having to resort to establishing laws that will regulate street performances via licenses and city taxes. Even the idea of designating specific locations reeks of an overreach that would only discourage the city’s long and proud history of street performance.
Assembling for the march
Walking down Haywood Street
Crossing College Street
Onward to Patton Avenue
The recent implementation of the old panhandling laws comes suspiciously at a time when there have been complaints from local businesses regarding noise level and sidewalk congestion from artists performing near or in front of their establishments. This of course is not a new occurrence as there has always been a somewhat strained relationship between buskers and businesses. The recently influx of transient performers unfortunate has only created a more of a wedge between buskers and business owners.
Marching down Patton Avenue
Heading toward Pack Square
But it seems to go deeper than just nuisance laws. Although buskers have always managed to sell their music CD’s while they perform, it was never legal to do so. This was generally overlooked, but because of the recent harassment by law enforcement and the transient artists that are not up to date with the protocol of being an Asheville street performer, those who have been a integral part of the scene have been bearing the brunt of recent ticket citations. And the citations are not to be taken lightly as those cited will have to appear in court. Currently, I have learned that a number of artists are no longer performing on the streets due to the recent rash of harassment, citations, and the intrusive and intimidating oversight by local law enforcement.
Support from locals
Giving speech in support of local artists
Asheville Councilman Cecil Bothwell believes that the city needs to address the “lower quality buskers” that contribute to congested sidewalks and waste matter left behind from their less than housebroken dogs in tow. I have found that any dog waste one will encounter is far from where you would find any performer and is usually the result of an inconsiderate tourist.
Standing up for music with Abby the Spoon Lady (left)
Josh Newton and Marc Hennessey
On a personal note, I have always been a big supporter of the downtown busking community. I have taken thousands of photos of local performers and those just passing through. Over the years I have made more friends in this manner than in any other time of my life. It would be a sad day when I can no longer walk down the street with camera in hand while taking in the sounds of that melding of the spiritual and mathematical that we call music. Yes, there are some artists that exhibit more ability than others. But establishing something akin to a litmus test to demonstrate one’s credibility to perform on a city sidewalk would be tantamount to elitism.
Mr. Bothwell feel’s that certain artists have greater merit than others. Orwellian undertones come to mind: “All artists are equal, but some artists are more equal than others.”
Abby the Spoon Lady
Jamming at Pack Square
The ABC and city council continue to make headway via open public meetings with the Public Safety Committee at the Municipal Building at 100 Court Plaza .
All images © Joe Longobardi. All Rights Reserved.