Busker’s Rights

Some of you may have seen the disturbing video of Andrew Kalleen being arrested for busking in the subway and being treated quite roughly a few months ago. The arrest was captured on video and brought new light to an issue that NYC musicians have navigated for generations. It has opened up a dialogue which has resulted in some better understanding about performers rights thanks to Local 802 Allegro writer Shane Gasteyer and the organization BuskNY.com which advocates for busker’s rights.

The main takeaway from the recent article in the January 15th edition of Local 802’s Allegro on busking is:

  • you do not need a permit to perform in the subway nor do you need an official Music Under NY (MUNY) banner
  • the police have the right to stop you if you are “impeding transit” and that judgement is made by the officer
  • you should follow the officer but wrongful arrest is still unjust
  • you can play for donations but not solicit which means you cannot only offer performance in return for payment

Musicians have always performed in public spaces around the city creating unexpected pockets of lively, joyful and creative entertainment in perfect harmony with the spirit of the city. Of course there are cases of bad playing or maybe something that just isn’t ones taste but for the most part the positive far out way the negative. There is so much great talent in New York it inevitably spills out into the streets. In fact it is the very nature of a public space without contracts, obligations or expectations that it can offer such freedom for artists. Many know the story of Sonny Rollins playing on the Williamsburg bridge while on professional hiatus searching for a new sound in 1959. He practiced 15 hours at a time through all seasons over the course of three years and then there was Moondog. Known to some as “the Viking of 6th Avenue” He could be found on Sixth Avenue around 52nd street wearing a makeshift viking helmet. A blind poet, composer, musician and inventor of instruments his music was considered avant-garde jazz and minimalist. From the late 1940s until 1972 he busked in midtown Manhattan. To most he appeared homeless however had an apartment in upper Manhattan and supported himself mainly from selling his music, poetry and musical philosophy. His music is said to have been a serious influence on Philip Glass and Steve Reich. So the next time you pass a busker in the subway remember they could be or may already have been an important piece of music history.

You can see the whole video of Kalleen’s arrest here.

Visit buskny.com for more information and advocacy for busker’s rights.