Fear of music

For all the talk around here about bringing new life downtown, City Hall can sure be a wet blanket. A month ago, we reported about the frustrations of one Moss Bittner, who tried to hire street musicians to play K Street and bring spontaneity and life to the troubled pedestrian mall, only to be repeatedly shut down by city police. (See “Guerilla guitars,” SN&R Feature Story, October 4.)

After weeks of tangling with the city bureaucracy and attempts to get some sort of permit, Bittner is almost ready to rock.

Sort of. First he has to come up with an extensive insurance policy. City officials are also demanding that Bittner provide the city with the names of the street musicians a week ahead of time, and to promise that none of the music being played is audible from more than 150 feet away. That’s about a half a block.

It’s not clear exactly why the city is so afraid of street performers and buskers, which are pretty standard in other major cities. Perhaps some innocent passerby will twist an ankle while attempting an interpretative dance to some smooth jazz saxophone. And once Bittner jumps through all of these hoops, he said, the city is only offering a one month permit, with no guarantee of renewal. That’s after what has already been a two-and-a-half-month process.

“Their thinking is ‘How can we constrict this as much as possible? How can we give it no more oxygen than we absolutely have to?'”

So is it worth the hassle? “Not entirely,” Bittner conceded. “I think it just shows how unimaginative the city bureaucracy is.”