[Dixielandjazz] Thread: Busking in Boston
nvickers1 at cox.net
Wed Nov 19 07:14:10 PST 2003
Friends: You have discoursed, interestingly of course, on busking before.
Here is an article from the Boston Globe, Nov. 17, regarding new rules
on busking in the subway stations. For your interest and comment. Thanks.
Subject: [mencken] Boston Globe: Subway musicians, unplugged
Subway musicians, unplugged
T says electric equipment can drown out PA system
By Donovan Slack and Yuval Ben-Ami, Globe Correspondents, 11/17/2003
Commuters have long enjoyed the cool riffs of electric guitarist
Sergei Alexeev, who has played rock, jazz, and classical music in MBTA
stations throughout central Boston for seven years. After the
terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, many subway passengers thanked
Alexeev for lightening their mood.
"They said thank you for coming out, thank you for keeping the music
going," Alexeev recalled. "I make people happy."
But now, MBTA officials have deemed nonacoustic music a hazard in T
stations. Beginning Dec. 1, they are banning electric keyboards and
guitars, microphones, and amplifiers, saying they drown out important
messages on the public address system. Saxophones, trumpets, and horns
of any kind also will be forbidden.
"If people can't hear those messages, then we have a problem," said
Joe Pesaturo, spokesman for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation
The new Subway Performers Program Policy requires that performers be
"neat in appearance," with "proper clothing," and have photo
identification badges on display at all times. The policy also
institutes a $25 charge for an annual performance permit. The new
rules were laid out in a letter sent last week to some 650 performers
who have been licensed to play in MBTA stations, free of charge in the
"This is a privilege, not a right," Pesaturo said. "A subway station
is a transit center first, and a concert venue probably last." The
musicians, he said, "add to the experience and the atmosphere, but we
have to draw the line somewhere."
Performers are calling the new rules "discriminatory," "arrogant," and
"unconstitutional." The Subway Artists Guild filed a complaint with
the American Civil Liberties Union on Friday. Guild members were
looking for a lawyer over the weekend to represent them in a legal
challenge of the policy, which they say threatens to put many
performers out of business.
"It's devastating," said Stephen Baird, head of the guild. "It's
During the winter, when outdoor performances are nearly impossible in
New England, hundreds of musicians rely on T stations for performance
space, he said. Many do not have other income, Baird added, and the
new regulations will force dozens to quit playing, including Alexeev.
"I'm going to be homeless," said Alexeev, who circulated a petition
protesting the new policies at Park Street station on Saturday night.
"I don't know what to do. This is my life. They might as well put me
in chains and handcuffs."
MBTA officials contend the regulations are an appropriate response to
security concerns after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. A task force
conducted a yearlong review of MBTA security after the attacks and
recommended musicians be banned from T stations altogether, Pesaturo
said. MBTA general manager Michael H. Mulhern, however, said he wanted
a "more balanced approach."
The musicians contend the policy has nothing to do with security and
is just another in a long history of attempts to silence them. In
1987, Baird and others formed the guild in response to threats to
arrest performers. The two sides reached an agreement the following
year, allowing musicians to play in the stations, sell recordings, and
to use amplification devices. Baird said the performers, in return,
agreed to a free, quarterly permitting process.
In 1989, MBTA officials started piping recorded music into stations
during the holiday season, a practice that Baird said undercut
performers' ability to play. The guild successfully fought back with a
letter-writing campaign, and squelched the recorded music by
mid-December of that year.
Four years later, MBTA officials decided to install hundreds of
televisions in T stations, broadcasting news, advertising, and other
programming. After another guild campaign, Baird said MBTA officials
agreed the televisions would broadcast only video and not audio
signals. The television plan eventually petered out altogether.
For the next several years, relations between performers and MBTA
officials appeared peaceful. Then came Sept. 11.
"This was the best, probably most open, subway system in the whole
world," Baird said yesterday. "Now a lot of these artists are being
kicked out in the street."
Transit authorities in London, New York, Toronto, and Atlanta appear
to allow saxophones and horns in their stations, as well as
amplification devices, according to a review of their websites. Almost
all of them, however, require performers to audition for the
opportunity to play during scheduled times at specific stations. Some
cities, including Washington, D.C., do not allow musicians to perform
in transit stations.
Hundreds of passengers breezed through Park Street station this
weekend, some dropping money in Alexeev's tip jar and some signing his
petition. One floor above, Dan Blakeslee pulled out his petition and
prepared to make copies as he packed up his guitar, microphone, and
45-watt amplifier on Saturday night. Without the amplifier, Blakeslee
said, people wouldn't hear his "melodic rock" or his lyrics.
Some passengers said the new policy will change Boston in a
"The music in the subway system is a real thumbprint of our city,"
said 22-year-old Stephanie Messina, a Brookline resident who stopped
to listen to Blakeslee for a few minutes on Saturday night. "When I
think of the subway system in Boston, I think of a guy playing `It's a
Wonderful Life,' and then I think, `You know, it is a wonderful life.'"
Donovan Slack can be reached at dslack at globe.com.
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