[Dixielandjazz] Thread: Busking in Boston

Kurt bowermastergroup at qwest.net
Wed Nov 19 08:18:15 PST 2003

I wonder how many of these buskers are members of the American Federation of
Musicians?  If they are members, I'd think the local and national AFM
offices would back them up, especially since the buskers were successful in
the past getting recording music stopped from being played over the p.a.

-----Original Message-----
From: dixielandjazz-bounces at ml.islandnet.com
[mailto:dixielandjazz-bounces at ml.islandnet.com]On Behalf Of Norman
Sent: Wednesday, November 19, 2003 7:14 AM
Subject: [Dixielandjazz] Thread: Busking in Boston

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.

Norman Vickers

  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
     drastic overkill."

     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
     fundamental way.

     "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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