Gear Junkies Editorial by Patti Greene
About once a year I get a call asking whether busking -- playing music on the sidewalk for tips -- is legal in Anchorage. Each year I call the city offices and every year the answer is pretty much the same -- nobody seems to know. This week's call was a bit different in that one of my favorite Gear Heads said he was playing in front of the old Court Building, directly across from the 4th Avenue Theatre, when one of the rent-a-cops came out and told him he was trespassing AND panhandling on Federal property. I'm thinkin this guy probably moonlights on the Sullivan Arena security crew.
Anyway, a call to the City Clerk's office (343-4311) connected me with an unhappy young lady who said that musicians are required to get a roving vendor's permit, which cost $150 a year and limits where one can play (basically, you can't play anywhere near downtown). I'm thinking that, when this code was written, The Hot Dog Lobby wanted to keep the Ice Cream Mafia from parking in front of the hot dog stands and scooping the competition -- har har -- and taking up parking spaces.
When pressed for the specific code that defines musicians as "roving vendors", The Unhappy Girl in the City Clerk's Office could only read the definition of vendor ["... providing food, products or services ... "], saying that, in HER opinion, musicians were providing a service.
Well, I said brightly, in MY opinion, some of 'em are providing a DIS-service!!!
What The Unhappy Girl in the City Clerk's Office fails to grasp, in MY opinion, is that in traditional commerce, a price is negotiated and the service is provided. That's why it's called "trade". Buskers, however, attach no price to the performance. People are free to enjoy the music without paying a dime. So in MY opinion, this is neither "providing service", nor is it panhandling. It's yet one more thing that's free in this mean ol' world!
Basically, Gear Heads, nothing in Anchorage municipal code defines musicians as vendors or panhandlers. There is no law that specifically prohibits busking. Until there is --- and The Unhappy Girl in the Etc. promised that "we're rewriting the code" -- I'll bet you are, it's what you do! -- just go on ahead and play on the sidewalks of downtown Anchorage. It helps if you make friends with one of the food vendors and set up in their space. It helps if you can pack it up and run, because nobody seems to know what the law is and somebody's bound to hound you. They're less likely to hound you if you can actually play your instrument, keep the volume low, and are for the most part agreeable. Don't block the sidewalk and don't set up in a fire lane.
But this all begs the question --- > why bother? Let's think Outside the Municipal Cubicle, shall we? Why not pick any one of the local malls and approach the management about playing for their patrons? Having live music -- in the form of busking -- might be the next cool thing they haven't thought of yet. And what's not to like about a climate controlled gig, better parking, better access, and benches ! PLUS better acoustics than can be found out of doors on Fourth Avenue. Best of all, you're not limited by the season or the weather -- think of that holiday cheer, baby --- PLUS you might be providing inspiration to some young'un who is learning to play. As always, thanks for listening. ---- patti