Busking in Duluth

I’ve been reading a lot about the possibilities of busking in Duluth, and I still can’t really tell what the verdict is. I went to the city site to see if there is actually a form or something, and I saw nothing.

So, is busking in town free of licensing? It seems to be the case, but I can’t be 100 percent sure.

Also, is the audition process something you must do? There was a lot of coverage of the “official” buskers, but I couldn’t see anything about whether they were the only people allowed to play on the street.

32 Comments

wildgoose

about 11 years ago

Call Parks and Rec Department.  If that doesn't work send an email to your city councilor or the mayor.  

The auditions that I have attended have been somewhat pro forma and most of the judges weren't even musicians.  

One busking irony in Duluth is that most of the people who have permits don't busk and the people who do a lot of busking tend to be permitless.  When I was a street vendor I used to beg people to come out and busk and I even scheduled a weekly buskers jam session and an outdoor open stage.  But you didn't get many takers.  Maybe you should just register with the state as a business doing street performance and work out your city/state tax on what you get and just bypass the city.  But the state is closed and beside that I see now that I have also (again) said way too much. 

I should have just said.  "I love buskers.  We need more of them they add much to the flavor and delights of public spaces. Good luck to you."

Elden

about 11 years ago

I have a busking permit for this year. Obtained from the Parks and Rec dept at the corner of Lake Ave and 4th st.

When I got my permit ($25) about two months ago I was informed that there weren't many left. Apparently, there are a limited number of permits issued. I didn't ask how many were issued, but there were three left.

I was not required to "audition," but rather to simply state the type of performance on the form.

The unfortunate thing is the very limited area where you are permitted to busk. You may busk in Lake Place park (for the drunks?), and between Endion Station and the Vietnam Memorial along the lakewalk only. This kind of sucks if you ask me, and I am not too sure why there is such a limited area other than someone is trying to avoid all potential confrontation. So, not downtown, not in canal park, not in Lief Ericson park, and nowhere along the lakewalk except the area above. Kinda dumb.

That is what I know about it.

adam

about 11 years ago

It is better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission.

Will E. Coyote

about 11 years ago

That is painfully stupid. I get more and more frustrated with these city council yokels the more I learn.  That's why I hang a "keep off the grass" sign in my kitchen,  to remind me how silly the law makers are, that it really has more to do with egos and image than public safety, and anyone can enter to win Boss Hogg, just have to put out more lawn signs than the other guy, a.k.a have more $$$$...  So what is Donny Ness doing to hip these guys up?  Apparently not enough.

B-man

about 11 years ago

+1 "all day" to Adam

MoeSewCo

about 11 years ago

I agree, Adam, especially if the performance areas are so restricted. Apparently the city doesn't want any kind of vibrant, memorable activities going on where people might be strolling by. As long as THE MAN doesn't confiscate my instruments, I think I'll go ahead and play where and when I want to. Thanks for the input.

H.

about 11 years ago

A little bird told me that if you ask nicely, the folks at Whole Foods on 4th St. may let you busk out front ;)

MoeSewCo

about 11 years ago

Ah...

Well, thank the little bird.

All I have to do is practice asking nicely...

Steven

about 11 years ago

I believe there have been rules about busking for a very long time (I would guess probably since around the great depression, give or take). This is a pretty common rule in almost every big city (over 10,000 or 20,000).  I think the reason behind it is there is a fine line between street performance and panhandeling....too much of the second one leads to the opposite of a vibrant, memorable experience for visitors.  Not to be down on homeless or desperate people (some of have been in similar situations), but tourist don't like to go to places that have too many panhandlers.  Anyway, that is the thinking behind it and not simply rules for the sake of having rules.

wildgoose

about 11 years ago

I like Steven's theory:  Duluth is classist and hyperprotective of tourists.  However, I think it goes a little further.  Many Canal Park businesses get squeamish about anything that is "out of control" in their fiefdom.  When I say "out of control" I mean out of their control.  The thing is, you can't really manage vibrancy, you can only stimulate it, and maybe protect it.  

For another example that Adam will love, witness the Canal Park Skateboarding ban.  Classic example of a situation where a minority of people through their behavior have dictated the regulations that everyone else that "follows the rules" has to follow now.  And when I speak of that "small minority," clearly I am referencing the Canal Park Business Association, although I suppose some of you might have thought I was referring to the skateboarders.  

I extensively studied theory of public spaces for a business plan that I worked on a few years ago.  It is widely understood by social scientists that the way to deal with folks like "panhandlers" or "drunks" is to flood the public space with other people like vendors, picknickers, buskers and artists, etc and focusing on the true problem people like muggers and drug dealers.  It is also a widely know theory among social scientists that business groups, chambers of commerce and parks and rec departments are very uncomfortable with employing this solution since it involves a basic acceptance that citizens of all stripes, classes, ages, and backgrounds are going to have to co-exist in the public space together.

I'm not sure if that is still true in Duluth or not, I don't have much contact with Parks and Rec anymore but it is true a lot of places.  Look up Project for Public Spaces online sometime.  They have great research and even diagrams showing how buskers add to the quality and harmony in public areas.

zra

about 11 years ago

having known more than a few street musicians in my time, i'll weigh with a little perspective:

unless things have changed much, the city of Seattle sells busking licenses in order to be able to play at designated spots inside and around the Pike Place Market and other places around town. Most other places don't seem to mind so much as a good street musician can actually bring in money for a sidewalk cafe (though while playing outside a coffee shop on Market St, my mentor Flagg was once offered $5 to *stop* playing. which he did, until the creep was out of sight)...This has been going on for decades, really, and is as much of a fixture of the whole "going to the market" experience as the little korean ladies who'll gladly take your money in exchange for some of the best tasting fruit you've ever had...

in Duluth's case, however, i think that the activity has been stymied for a lot longer, with the stigma that street musicians are somehow on the grift or vagrants or something unsavory. so, it seems that it's difficult to overcome that stereotype, so nobody really knows how to approach or handle the idea...naturally bureaucracy gets involved and mucks everything up.

i think i can see both sides of the fee issue though...ponying up the fee kind of ensures that your operation is on the up and up, though i think $25 bucks is a little steep. you *might* make your money back in the first week though if the foot traffic is brisk.

it's the stigma that has to be overcome. we see vibrant culture...others may see vagrancy. but you'll see the same thing happening in every other major city in the country.

Barrett Chase

about 11 years ago

I agree with zra's last comment. A lot of Duluthians look upon busking as a form of panhandling. It's something you'll have to deal with. But approaching it with the wrong attitude won't help matters at all.

Barrett Chase

about 11 years ago

Just a question: What technically is "busking"? I assume that implies that you're asking for donations. Can a person legally perform music on a street corner or other public place if they do not ask for or accept donations?

wildgoose

about 11 years ago

I was glad to see Barrett's comments, and Zra's, too.  I guess I went a little far out there and a tad bit more negative than I really wanted to be in my analysis and they brought it back to the ground level.  Thanks

I also agree with Barrett that it would be wrong to approach this with a bad attitude.  

As for the question, I would be interested in seeing how that worked for someone to play at a street corner and *not* be asking for money.  If done properly it could be brilliant street theater, some people would be trying to give donation, some would be looking away and some would really appreciate it.  

My nephew sent me a video about busking a few months ago let me see if I can find it here ...

adam

about 11 years ago

vhttp://youtu.be/GaoLU6zKaws

Elden

about 11 years ago

I do understand that the line between busking (putting out a hat) and panhandling can be a bit vague sometimes. I suspect that is why the official permitted busking area is so small. That way they can "police" it more easily. 

It is also clear in the "guidelines" that you are not allowed to impede traffic or pedestrians, which would automatically exclude many of downtown's sidewalks.

I did get the feeling, however, that if you are outside the official area, and if you aren't causing any trouble, and nobody asks you to move on, then it isn't really Parks and Rec's concern.

The point could also be clarified, as mentioned earlier, that if you don't have out a hat for money, then it is maybe just street performing, and not busking, per se. In that event, I am not sure of the City's ordinances on the matter.

I will have to agree that I understand both sides of the argument for the limited area, but that doesn't make it any better.

r3353

about 11 years ago

Has anyone polled the buskers what their take is?  I don't think it's about making money as opposed to street art.  Or how about that guy who was charging $5 for all day parking in the ramp on Lake & First during Grandmas? Without a vest, or receipts or only there shortly.

Speaking of busking, I participated for the Gallery Hop this year and was not compensated by the Duluth Public Arts Commission to the tune of $25, I even had to audition last year (which I was compensated for). 

As far as I'm concerned, busking implies performance, pan-handling implies begging.

Like Nike says, Just Do It. And deal with the authorities if they hassle you.  And remember, there is always the Graffiti Graveyard, which has more traffic this year than I've ever seen.

Timk

about 11 years ago

I know of a teen-aged lad who played bongos somewhere along the ridiculous line to see the tall ships and made over $100.

Carla

about 11 years ago

You can do it at our place.

Sun Dog

about 11 years ago

A couple of years ago my husband and I visited Quebec City. They have some great buskers there and it really adds to the travel experience. As I understand it, those buskers are heavily regulated. Quebec City would not be as fun without them. You know the buskers are good, when you go back to your hotel room to get your spouse and say, "You gotta come out and see this guy...he's sooo cool." 

I think Duluth is just as unique and we could add to the vibrancy of our little city by encouraging buskers.

Unfortunately  my husband is one of those people who has a busker's license and rarely plays. Except for the Gallery Hop, no one ever contacts him to ask why he doesn't play, or encourage him to play more, or threaten to take away his license.

David Beard

about 11 years ago

Just a note:  not being asked to stop does not make it okay.  My neighbors exceeding acceptable noise levels in their apartment do not always get asked to stop, but that doesn't make it okay.  If I ask them to stop, it means that it's totally super beyond not okay.

MoeSewCo

about 11 years ago

What an interesting bunch of folks. In all of my years on the Internet, I don't think I've ever had this many comments on a posting to any board.

When I busk, one of the main ways I try to make people more comfortable with it is to treat it as a job. I try to appear as a professional -- sometimes even wearing a tie and jacket (and pants, when I'm really feeling it.) I have found that some of the best tippers are families with small children, and I dress in a way that makes those people comfortable. At the same time, my mindset is always that I am merely practicing, not really performing. That seems to lend an aura of comfort to the proceedings, and comfort usually leads to tips.

As for the money, I've always had great success with it. On average, I make $10 / hour, but I've never tried Duluth. I think it may be because I'm a little different because I don't play guitar. I play fiddle and ukulele, two instruments that you don't see very often on the street. It's easier for people to walk past something like a guitarist / vocalist without really paying attention because they've seen it so many times. I'm a fat guy with a ukulele singing a tenor version of Ring of Fire, so I'm pretty hard to miss.

And yes, I know more than one song. Ring of Fire just seemed to fit the description.

Thanks for all the input...

Paul Lundgren

about 11 years ago

By the way, as previously posted, the Greater Downtown Council is encouraging buskers to perform during the Sidewalk Days Festival this week. No permit necessary. Just show up, open a case and play.

Buskers Wanted for Sidewalk Days

Claire

about 11 years ago

I saw a busker on the Lakewalk this weekend (Monday). Just playing, to play, didn't have a hat on the ground or anything to pick up tips. He definitely added to the ambiance of the day.

Sean

about 11 years ago

There is a reason to license buskers.  You want people who really want to be doing it for the right reasons, and maybe actually sound decent.  Not just some guy with a trumpet.  But, there is no reason, really, to restrict that greatly the number of people busking and the places they can busk.  The activity is self-regulating, to some extent, and by having a permit, it's easily policed.  Why make it harder for people who make such a huge contribution to the public life of the city?

MoeSewCo

about 11 years ago

Well, I went down to Sidewalk Days (Daze) today and spent about three hours playing. People were by and large happy. I only got nasty looks from a couple of senior citizens who obviously wanted me to be spending my time in a more beneficial way, like making gourd art or crafting pigs out of empty bleach bottles. I find that staring back is a great way to get them to move on.

My observations after three hours of busking in Duluth:

1. Teens were extremely appreciative, tipped well, and even chatted a little bit. Mothers with young children came a close second.

2. Nobody thought I was begging or panhandling, and most seemed to understand that I was working to provide a festive atmosphere.

3. Someone should set some busking rules for future events. There was one guy there taking up a whole block because he was playing through an amp and singing into a mic. That, to me, is a faux pas. Also, one of the larger stores was playing loud music through a fairly large speaker system, making it impossible to really use most of that block as well.

4. I'd like to have a small chair with me, because there aren't too many places to sit down there. Sure, I could stand, but I find that tips are better when you are stationed lower than the pedestrians.

5. Shop workers are very happy when you ask them if they would mind that you play nearby for a while.

6. Don't forget that regular sunscreen can sweat off.

I'll be down there most of the day tomorrow should anyone want to drop in and say hello. I'll be the guy with a goatee playing the fiddle or singing with a black ukulele. Codeword is SWORDFISH.

ruby2sd4y

about 11 years ago

I listened to a couple of guys outside the Holiday Center when I came down for work around lunchtime, and they were still there until just a little while ago (I could see them from my window). It was nice to see and hear them - even with the annoyance of the louder-over-speaker stuff from others.

Hooray for Buskers!


And if a person can play a decent trumpet, that'd be nice too.

Paul Lundgren

about 11 years ago

By the way, apparently there was a large flash mob at Sidewalk Days today. Below is video from it, which could maybe win a prize for "Worst Video of a Flash Mob Ever," but it sort of gets the feeling across, I guess.

Barrett Chase

about 11 years ago

Flash mobs. Looks like Duluth has finally discovered memes from 2005.

Jim Wilferling

about 11 years ago

Oh, I just gotta get my 2 cents in here, of course. Back in my day  There were no more than one actively practicing busker in Duluth at a time, unless some enterprising kids from a more laid back place came to town on a lark. Busking kept me in grub and beer money on and off in the early 1990s. The only one I knew who had regularly busked Duluth was a fellow by the name of Paul Webster (of Webster house fame) who used to tin whistle on the corner by the Holiday Center in the late '80s. 

My favorite spot was the row of rocks were the ramp down from corner of the lake park crossed the scenic railroad tracks and met the Lakewalk. (The other being the T intersection in the Skywalk just before the passage to the DECC, or across from Kelly's Coffee in the Sup. St. Skywalk. 

The biggest day I ever had was maybe 50-60 bucks. I hit that maybe 4 times ever. The one time I was ever approached by Duluth Police, was merely to make sure I wasn't overtly begging. (Apparently, my open guitar case was fine.) When I asked the cop about a permit, he said no such thing existed. Mind you, this was about 1994. It seems once again the 1950s small-town fear-based mentality of authorities in Duluth toward anything remotely counterculture, wild, or creative has spawned an atmosphere where anything not mandatory is forbidden. Pity. 

I wasn't all that great, but I was pretty well received (especially by tourists, and yes, the tourist teenagers, especially thought it hip), and it got me guitar pointers from all the guys I'd see playing at Quinlan's later in the evening. 

It's really sad the city, or Canal Park business association or whatever, feels the need to institutionalize and control such a traditional and time-honored way for a musician to learn and ply his craft.

Jim Wilferling

about 11 years ago

Oh, and as far as young enterprising buskers, and the kind businesses that allow them space, Bravo! Keep it Up! There will be many, long, slow, boring stretches,(Mostly long, slow boring stretches, actually,) But Don't get discouraged!

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