Street performers are hopeful that city regulations will soon be made clearer and fair for those who wish to perform in public places.

Street performers are hopeful that city regulations will soon be made clearer and fair for those who wish to perform in public places.

By Harry Kane

Proposed legislation would allow street performers access to Somerville streets. City officials want to update the ordinance just in time for the warm weather, yet there’s still no timetable designated.

“Right now if you look at how the code of ordinances is written,” said Alderman-At-Large Jack Connolly, “unless you’re performing or demonstrating for a military parade, or some such item like that, all street activity performances are technically under the old code of ordinances — not permitted.”

Connolly feels the old code is detrimental to the spirit of an open and democratic society. “We have an energetic place around the Davis Square Plaza,” Connolly said. The new ordinance would accommodate street musicians, jugglers, robotic statue people, and the like.

Currently, the ordinance does not allow for a musician combo to be permitted in a location, said Connolly. If the ordinance update were successful, musicians would basically just be allowed to show up on Friday afternoon and set-up.

In tough economic times any extra income helps. Performers could get tips by showing up with a couple of guitars and amplifier and start playing.

One concern is the noise pollution. Residents and business owners may not all want street performers. Yet, some people share the sentiment that street performers draw crowds, and that could help businesses.

Connolly’s other concern: out-of-town musicians might monopolize the spots in Davis Square. That would be disappointing for local talent, he expressed. An ebb and flow of different performers would be fair.

“I’m just a little gun-shy about it, because I have seen people try and come on Friday and Saturday and try and monopolize that space on a pretty regular basis,” said Connolly. He hopes that the Legislative Matters Committee can avoid any more red tape.

The conversation began last spring when Ward Six Alderman Rebekah Gewirtz was approached by a couple of street performers. Apparently, Somerville Police officers asked the performers to leave Statue Park and obtain a permit.

The street performers rushed to City Hall for a permit, but were unable to get one, said Gewirtz, because “we don’t have street musician permits.”

After the run-in with street performers, Gewirtz did some digging and found the original ordinance from the 1960’s. In theory, “the ordinance that’s on the books is highly likely to be unconstitutional,” said Gewirtz. It was time to make some modifications. That was about one year ago.

Currently, the Legislative Matters Committee is looking at doing away with the permit entirely. “We all pretty much came to an agreement on what we wanted the ordinance to look like, and that we didn’t want to require a permit, but that we wanted to change all the language,” said Gewirtz.

“I’d like to see them be able to just come out and play within the realm of reason.” The updated ordinance would seek to do just that. “The spring is upon us, and this is the time when street musicians are going to start to come out,” said Gewirtz.

Performers will be subject to fines if they break the regulations. “We create certain rules for public spaces,” said Gewritz, “so that we can avoid that problem when at the same time guarantee people their individual liberties.”

Gregory Jenkins, director of the Somerville Arts Council had a different perspective. He said street musicians usually have a “polite etiquette” and don’t need a permit.

“Usually what we tell people is, if it’s not a large band – just a singer/songwriter situation – and they want to perform in the plaza and Davis Square, that they’re not too loud, and they don’t play too late at night, generally they can get away with it,” said Jenkins.

The other scenario might involve the creation of a street musician permit like in Cambridge. Following the April 4 Legislative Matters Committee more information will surface.



9 Responses to “Somerville Aldermen suggest easing regulations for street performers”

  1. mememe says:

    Interesting, seems the cities position is that they need to stand in the way of unemployed people trying to earn a living. Sounds about right?

    “Connolly’s other concern: out-of-town musicians might monopolize the spots in Davis Square. That would be disappointing for local talent, he expressed.” BS. So you think it would be best if only local musicians are able to play? How about your job to represent all residents of Davis Square that might want to hear the best music willing to play for spare change, not your cousin who happens to have a better chance to get a permit.

    Or even better question, why do we need Connolly to pick and choose who gets to play? Let anyone that wants to play, go out there an play. The people who provide the most enjoyment will stick around.

  2. Brian says:

    So if you are a group who wants to have a rally, or other type of gathering you need a permit, but if you are a musician you do not? You would just expect people to come at the appropriate time, with the appropriate equipment, until the appropriate time, and all will be well? If they do not need a permit they have ‘no skin in the game’ so why would they follow the rules? If they don’t need a permit, how will they know the rules? If they don’t need a permit how will they be fined for not following the rules? The comment from the Arts Council, basically saying that they wouldn’t need a permit, just following a few simple guidelines and they ‘can get away withshould be allowed to do what they want, and ‘generally they can get away with it’. I’d like to remind him of the Arts Councils’ fiasco last summer called ‘porchfest’ where residents were bombarded by musicians not following the rules by among other things, playing too long, playing too loud, allowing their audience to use abutters’ property, etc. Yes, indeed, sounds like a great plan for the square.

  3. mememe says:

    What rules Brian? You mean the law? Yeah…. not having a permit does not exempt you from laws.

    Appropriate time and equipment? You need a permitting office to make sure that they have a certified guitar or something? If they dont have appropriate equipment then no ones going to give them money. What skin off your back does that cause? Appropriate time? I’m assuming you mean only music when YOU want it. That’s not how it works, and as stated, there are laws about public disturbances ect that will still be enforced.

    Dont complain about people not following rules, when the laws are not enforced. Its like the old (and stupid) argument that if we make pot legal everyone will drive high. That is currently illegal, and will still be illegal. Enforce the good laws, and eliminate the stupid ones

  4. Jeffrey says:

    I don’t think you need to rant against porchfest as a whole just because you might’ve had one bad experience with a performer and their audience not being good neighbors… it’s a pretty neat event and it’s just one day out of the year. Also permits should probably only be necessary for people that wanna bring in amps or portable pa’s more so just so you don’t have a bunch of people showing up to play at the same time. I don’t think they should be necessary for un-amplified performers of 1 or 2 people.

  5. j. connelly says:

    First, I like Alderman Jack ConnOlly’s, (No he’s not really my Cuzin) idea about the groups be from within the city. The city tries to get new big business ventures coming into the city, construction, etc. to hire residents so why not the same consideration for this?

    WHY? Because the outsiders face the fact that some of the other cities including their own, will NOT allow these groups or have co$t requirements on the groups for special permits, or if they attract too large a crowd that the group must cease operating or bring in a police detail to control the crowd.

    Thus all the FREE LOADERS want to come to Somerville and not have to face any hurdles or controls. Outside groups could be allowed down the line but let’s give our own city residents a chance first and see how it goes. Then let the outsiders pay for special permits and be held accountable.

    The Police Dept’s Licensing Division should be in charge of issueing the
    the permits so that someone’s info will be verified and on file should any problems occur.

    I would like to see other issues also addressed like the continued use of the Blvd. by Large illegal trucks violating the posted NO TRUCKS signs (which have been in place since the 1950’s) Before a major truck disaster event occurs. If the cruisers can sit for hours on the Blvd for the pedestrian crossing violations for Tax Exempt Tufts at TAXPAYER expense they can also be addressing RESIDENT TAXPAYERS issues such as the illegal trucks.

  6. mememe says:

    @J. C: Because the city has stupid hiring requirements, and some other cities might have stupid permit requirements, we should do the same? That is weak logic at best.

    Why are people that come here to preform ‘free loaders’? They want to supply a service that is in demand here. If it wasnt, then they would not get paid and not show. Why do they need to register with a police dept to do their job? No one else has to do this. Are they more apt to have problems then a normal person walking around? If they break the law then go after them, no need to make up fake over the top rules before hand to make them seem like criminals, they just want jobs.

    Your logic is weak.

  7. Brian says:

    mememe, I find your name very appropriate. Stop and take a breath.
    ~appropriate equipment, meaning not using amplifiers that are too loud.
    ~appropriate time, meaning not playing before or after certain hours
    ~a permit so that the performer knows what our regulations do and do not allow, so that if there is a problem they cannot claim ignorance.
    And why would I expect these laws to be enforced when so many now are enforced selectively.
    Jeffrey: Why not rant against porchfest? It was a very bad idea, and many people had very bad experiences. So bad that I understand they don’t plan to repeat it. You should have the expectation that you can enjoy your home without being blasted by amplified music for 8 hours. There was no accountability and noone to make sure that the LAWS/REGULATIONS were enforced, outside of myself. And it may be just one day out of the year for you, but if you work nights, have an elderly or ill family member, or an infant, it is a very long day indeed
    You state that “permits should probably only be necessary for people that wanna bring in amps or….so you don’t have a bunch of people showing up to play at the same time”, then go on to say that permits should not be necessary otherwise. How would you know what equipment they plan to bring, or how many people might show up at the same time without a permit process?

  8. A. Moore says:

    I am surprised the city is not doing a feasability study on this and hiring an outside consultant.

    Usually it’s one person doing something and people throw them a few coins. A friend of mine used to do that. He just about made food and beer money. Maybe just single performers and so many decibels of sound. Over that you get a permit. Unless I missed something here. Just keep it simple, we have real problems in this city.

  9. j. connelly says:

    ‘mememe’ There are regulations on the books for the safety of the citizens that require police notification/permits. Even door to door personnel, sales, vendors, etc. must apply in advance of the actual date.

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