Playing music for passersby to brighten up their day and share a love of music may not be so simple anymore as the city is moving to require that all buskers now carry a permit.
The City of Campbell River says a permit program will allow the city to get a better handle on avoiding conflicts between buskers – street entertainers who perform in public places – businesses and residents and increase safety for both performers and the public.
“The current bylaw has proven to be effective at reducing conflicts between street entertainers and downtown businesses but is weak in enabling regulations to manage and promote greater downtown street activity,” said Brian McLoughlin, the city’s clerk technician.
The city says the new system will also enable the city to contact registered street entertainers with guidelines, program updates and event information and allow the city to contact and hire registered buskers to play special events. McLoughlin says it could even allow the city to go so far as “requiring auditions in the future should the city determine that this becomes necessary.”
The city is proposing a fee of $10 per year for individuals or groups for a Street Entertainer Permit, although the bylaw regulating the new permit program does contain a provision for the city’s general manager of operations to adjust this fee as required up to a maximum of $100 per year “should street entertaining become highly competitive at some point in the future,” McLoughlin said.
Owen Burgess, who, along with his guitar, was a fixture outside of the Royal Bank for years, said when the city talked about requiring buskers to purchase licences from City Hall back in 2011 that some restrictions were welcome.
“It wouldn’t bother me to pay a fee, although I don’t see why they should (charge a fee),” Burgess said at the time. “But if they’re gonna regulate it, it would keep the riff raff out.
“You gotta be professional, you can’t just be out here making noise and jumping around,” he said, adding that buskers in Campbell River seem to be a dying breed.
And those who attempt busking sometimes wind up catching grief, as was the case with popular busker and violinist Blaine Waldbauer who, in 2011, was wrongfully kicked out of the courtyard in front of the library. In that incident, the city admitted that a security guard had, without merit, asked Waldbauer to leave but the situation was resolved after the city stepped in and informed the security company it was in the wrong.
The city says now it wants to encourage busking and new regulations are an extension of that. McLoughlin says street entertainers are an important piece to Refresh Downtown, the city’s new guiding policy document that is aimed at encouraging investment and congregation in the downtown. Regulating buskers, “will allow the city to regulate street entertainment in a way that promotes and enables a vibrant downtown environment – specifically, in the Cultural and Waterfront Districts.”
To that end, the city is also designating certain locations downtown as entertainment spots.
“Under the existing bylaw, a street entertainer may perform anywhere on public property in Campbell River so long as they remain two metres from the entrance of a store or business, or five metres from the entrance of a bank or ATM,” McLoughlin said. “They are also prohibited from performing indoors. The proposed amendment will maintain the existing requirements but create a special Downtown Area with designated Performance Locations.”
Those locations have been strategically placed along the entrance to the pier, on the walkway alongside the harbour next to the pier, at Robert Ostler Park (two locations), Spirit Square, next to the Tidemark and the library (two spots), outside the Community Centre, and along Shoppers Row (three spots).
Buskers who perform downtown in a location not designated as a performance location are subject to a $50 fine. Fines can also be incurred for performing in the downtown area without a permit ($50) and for continuing to perform when a permit is suspended ($75).
McLoughlin said the intent is to be able to better manage the “growing relationship between street entertainers, business owners, residents and visitors” as development moves forward and city initiatives aim to encourage more people to work and live in the downtown core.
Which means ensuring buskers aren’t posing a nuisance. To avoid such conflicts, buskers must not be heard beyond 50 metres (under the existing bylaw the audible distance was 23 metres).
“This will allow street entertainers to perform at a volume that is both practical and in compliance with the bylaw,” McLoughlin said. “The City of Nanaimo and the City of Courtenay both allow for an audible distance of 75 metres. To balance the interests of both street performers and businesses in Campbell River’s downtown, staff are proposing a 50 metre audible distance.”
The city developed the new busker regulations in consultation with the Downtown BIA, the city’s Advisory Planning and Environment Commission, the Pier Street Association, and the city’s Community Services, Recreation and Culture Commission. A downtown open house was also held on March 16.
Council gave first three readings to the new program at its May 23 meeting, putting it one step away from adoption.