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Sounds like progress

Let the buskers busk

A busker in the Brady Arts District

Greg Bollinger

With the city’s current effort to make panhandling illegal, local musicians are wondering how busking fits in. Playing music on the street isn’t panhandling. Still, the only thing better to hear than applause is the sweet sound of coins and dollars falling into your hat, bucket, or guitar case.

I’ve played for people waiting to get into shows at the Cain’s Ballroom, Brady Theater, and BOK Center. I’ve played for people leaving bars at closing time, which is always a crowd that tips well.

One of my favorite spots for years was the section of sidewalk next to the TAC gallery, on M.B. Brady Street during the First Friday Art Crawl. There’s usually a horde of sightseers and tourists on the sidewalk, many of whom seem to be entertained by listening to a group of crazy street musicians play bluegrass.

I’d love to set up by an expressway off ramp—which in Tulsa has become a common place for panhandlers—and play 30-second songs for people waiting at the light.

I remember one particular First Friday I was running a little late and the rest of the band was already kicking out the bluegrass jams. Or, they had been, because as I came walking up, they were being given a hard time by some TPD officers. The cops were saying something about permits for street performing.

Title 27, Chapter 12, Section 1205 of Tulsa’s City Ordinance: “It shall be an offense for any person to use or cause to be used any portion of any sidewalk, street or alley for the maintaining or holding of any exhibition, entertainment, musical or dancing show for any purpose whatsoever. “

The cops told us that if their attention was again drawn to a group of street musicians who had been previously warned to stop, they’d be writing some tickets. Our fiddle player, who was quite a brasshound for a strings player, told the officer that we’d make enough money to pay the ticket and then some. The cop replied that if he had to write tickets, we would also be going to jail.

There was no more busking that night.

I watched the other half dozen buskers in the Brady Arts District that night receive similar hassle.

But why is an arts crawl threatened by various street performers jamming on the street? It sounds like the kind of thing that happens in an arts district.

Later, as my bandmates and I were standing around and wondering what to do next, the cops came back. They said their boss had told them to “let us play.”

I wondered if their boss was the same officer who approached my bandmates when we were busking at the corner of Second Street and Elgin Avenue late one night. We were a little apprehensive, but the only question the cop had for us was “Do you have a guitar I can play?”

He was a fairly ripping bluegrass picker and proceeded to play a number of standards with the boys.

That’s what progress sounds like.

For more from Dan, read his article on local zine culture.