As the sun began to set on midtown Tuesday, musicians took to the sidewalks to toot trumpets and trombones and bang on drums, as hundreds of Mardi Gras partygoers shimmied to the beat on their way from Mulvaney’s B&L to Torch Club.
This isn’t the Sacramento that most residents are used to, staid government town that we are. But things could – and should – change if Mayor Darrell Steinberg and the City Council can find a way to encourage more buskers to post up on street corners and perform.
Buskers have long strummed guitars for tips in tourist areas, such as Old Sacramento. But with Golden 1 Center now open and new restaurants and bars popping up all the time, downtown and midtown Sacramento are booming, too.
There, street musicians are rarely found, though. And those who do venture into the central city tend to skedaddle at the first sign of police. Some of that is culture. Some of it is confusion. But a lot has to do with outdated ordinances that put unreasonable restrictions on noise and live performances.
Changing that will require a direct but light touch by the city – grass-roots cultivation rather than the usual top-down politics. On Wednesday, David Sobon of the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission pulled together an ad hoc committee of artists to draft some recommendations. The message to city officials was clear: Don’t craft a busking ordinance. Instead, tweak the laws that make busking tough to do.
“Repeat after me,” Sobon said. “There is no ordinance on busking.” Anyone can dance or play an acoustic guitar on a Sacramento street corner. What buskers can’t do, however – and unfortunately – is play along the K Street pedestrian mall, the long-dead corridor that’s now a hub of excitement.
An old ordinance, passed for a reason no one could remember Wednesday, prohibits noise that’s louder than 65 decibels – basically a loud conversation. Amplified instruments are out of the question, too, even if that’s the only way a street musician could be heard over the din of bar hoppers and late-night diners.
The city can and should eliminate these barriers, and make the area safe for performers. A gleaming central city is nice, but the party won’t get started without a dose of creativity on its sidewalks, here and there.