by Jeremy Morrison
As Pensacola considers how best to accommodate street performers downtown, officials are looking to Asheville, N.C. In turn, Asheville’s street performers — or buskers — are eyeing Pensacola.
This weekend, in fact, a few may roll into town to check it out.
“We may busk if we feel it,” said Abby the Spoon Lady.
The Spoon Lady — or, Abby Roach — is a fixture on the Asheville street performer scene. She also heads up the Asheville Buskers Collective, which worked with the city to develop a recently launched pilot program designed to test out a set of busking guidelines in the downtown area.
Roach and her band — the Fly By Night Rounders — are playing a gig in Crestview on Friday. The next day they want to check out Pensacola, due to the city’s recent interest in Asheville’s busking particulars.
“I had a real nice conversation with Curt Morse,” Roach noted. “He’s got the right idea.”
Morse, the executive director of the Downtown Improvement Board, reached out to Roach in an effort to explore potential options for preserving street performances in downtown. Currently, buskers stand to be swept out of downtown, as the city of Pensacola is considering an ordinance aimed at banning panhandling from downtown, but which would also include street performers or anyone else soliciting funds without a permit; the proposed ordinance was drawn up at the behest of the DIB.
Roach stressed the importance of separating buskers from panhandlers. She said Asheville also dealt with that issue — “our police department was lumping it into panhandling” — and that the busking community worked to change the perception.
“You have to draw a hard line there,” Roach said. “Or else you lose busking.”
Roach also noted that she has noticed that an uptick in busking activity tends to lead to a downtick in panhandlers.
“The better the buskers you have on the street, the less panhandlers you have,” she said.
But Roach also stressed that street performances in Asheville remain largely unrestricted. Though they must observe distance requirements within two high-traffic areas, buskers resisted the notion of a permit, as well as the city’s initial concept of curtailing performances into designated areas.
“Whenever talks first started that’s kind of like what they were thinking here. They’re assuming people flock to buskers, but buskers flock to people,” Roach said. “We just pretty much told them no. Eventually they dropped it.”
Roach pointed to other locales that have attempted to relegate performers to an off-the-main-drag spot, and said such efforts led to performers avoiding certain places — and such places missing out on the flavor such activity lends.
“It’s like St. Augustine,” she said, explaining that officials had decided to banish buskers to less populated areas. “All the buskers I know just skip St. Augustine. It’s not even on the map.”
The DIB has released a draft set of guidelines for buskers. The guidelines are taken directly from Asheville’s own guidelines. Also included in the DIB’s proposed guidelines is a code of “etiquette.”
The etiquette measures address issues such as duration of performances, with an advised length of two hours. In Asheville, these recommendations are not built into any law, but rather an agreed upon code within the busking community.
“If you want to play three hours you can. None of that stuff is law,”
Roach said. “If no one’s waiting on you, you can play all day.”
Roach said that the guidelines in Asheville came about as a result of the city and busking community working together. She views that element as important to the guideline’s success, and the fact that buskers retained much of their freedom to perform as they want.
“It is extremely slow, but awesome for us, because we don’t have any restrictions at all,” Roach said.
To read more about Pensacola’s current considerations regarding busking, as well as downtown panhandling, see “What Will Busking Look Like in Downtown Pensacola?” and “Downtown Scrub Down”
The read about the DIB’s proposed guidelines, click here.
To read about the busking protest planned for April 6, see “Protest Song”
To learn more about Abby the Spoon Lady, click here.