Buskers: coming soon to a street corner near you
Waynesville officials will hold a public hearing next week on an ordinance that would pave the way for street performers, known colloquially as “buskers,” to play in the town’s public spaces in hopes of making a buck or two from passersby.
Under the proposed policy, buskers would have to pay a $25 fee to the town in exchange for an annual license. First, however, the performer would have to provide a name, contact information, photo identification, a detailed description of the act, what instruments or props the act includes and two 2-by-2 color headshots. The person would also have to undergo a background check.
Currently, street performers playing for money aren’t allowed in Waynesville. By default, they fall under the town’s panhandling ban. Even the mere suggestion of soliciting money by placing a hat, bucket or open instrument case on the sidewalk would deem the busker a panhandler — since there is no explicit language in the town’s ordinances making an exception for street performers.
Several people have inquired about busking in downtown Waynesville during the last year, according to Town Manager Marcy Onieal. The volume of requests prompted the board to consider allowing street performing for money.
The general thought is that buskers add vibrancy to the downtown-shopping district.
“It seems like something that the visitors and merchants appreciate,” said Buffy Phillips, executive director of the Downtown Waynesville Association.
If someone has chops, merchants don’t mind a performer setting up shop outside their store. It’s the buskers that make dogs howl and babies cry that town officials fear.
“I believe that a thriving downtown deserves good music,” said Ian Moore, a fiddler in Sylva who was recently spotted busking before a large crowd in downtown Waynesville during the Friday evening Art After Dark stroll.
“A permit kind of gets under my skin, but if you are not the kind of performer who can make $25 in a good hour on a good day, then you probably don’t need to be a street performer,” Moore added.
With a permitting process in place, Moore said that the town can be more judicious about who it hands a license. It also allows the police to shoo unlicensed street performers away.
“Now, the cop has something to point to,” said Moore.
Moore said he doesn’t usually play in Waynesville unless it’s a paid gig, but he just might put down the money for a license if the town board approves busking downtown.
“I think I would pay for a permit,” Moore said. “I can certainly make that $25 back without much difficulty.”
Judging by the collection of bills accumulating in his instrument case during the Art After Dark stroll three weeks ago, that’s indeed the case.
However, Moore said the small town just west of the busking capital of Asheville doesn’t have enough traffic to draw him to Waynesville regularly. He would likely stop into downtown Main Street only during the height of tourism season or if he feels everyone in Asheville has heard him play.
The ordinance, if passed, would limit the hours people can play — no earlier than 11 a.m. and no later than 9 p.m. — as well as where they can play. Buskers may not perform within 50 feet of any school, library, hospital, church, funeral home, courthouse or cemetery, or within 100 feet of a town-approved special event such as the annual Apple Festival, according to the proposed language. Performers may not impede the flow of traffic or busk on private property without written permission from the owner.
The regulations are aimed at keeping street performers from cropping up anywhere and everywhere and preventing people with a questionable amount of talent from littering the sidewalk.
“I would rather see them permitted than see them show up at anytime,” Phillips said.
A valid Waynesville street performing license will also give buskers permission to sell DVDs or CDs of them performing.
“That’s great,” said Moore, who sometimes tries to sell used books that he doesn’t want anymore while performing.
Voice your opinion
The Waynesville Board of Aldermen will host a public hearing at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 27, on a proposed ordinance that would allow street performers to play for tips along downtown Main Street.