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Buskers Use Facebook to Fight Bethesda Terrace 'Quiet Zone'

By Amy Zimmer | June 2, 2011 12:19pm | Updated on June 3, 2011 6:47am

By Amy Zimmer

DNAinfo News Editor

MANHATTAN — Buskers and their fans are taking to social media to fight  the newly-designated "quiet zone" in Central Park's Bethesda Terrace — where opera singers, sax players and other musicians have flocked for decade.

They are starting an online petition, a Facebook site and trying to organize a massive — but quiet — orchestra of street musicians in protest.

Buskers at the terrace believe they're giving park-goers "a uniquely New York experience," violinist Meredith Rachel wrote in her online petition that has collected more than 100 signatures.

"Where else in the world can you hear a Dixieland jazz band, then walk 100 feet to hear classical duets, string-influenced rock n' roll covers, a gospel choir or some of Brooklyn's best indie bands, all performing acoustically in open air, and essentially for free?" asked Rachel, 25.

Parks Department officials says crowds drawn by musicians like this are damaging the stairs at Bethesda Terrace.
Parks Department officials says crowds drawn by musicians like this are damaging the stairs at Bethesda Terrace.
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courtesy of the Parks Department

But Parks Department say the crowds they draw of up to 700 people are causing problems.

"Central Park is better than ever and has tripled in visitation since the '80s from 12 million then to over 37 million now," Parks Department spokeswoman Vickie Karp wrote in an email. "Millions more people, at least a little more enforcement [is] needed."

There are already seven other quiet zones in the park, including Strawberry Fields, the Conservatory Garden and Sheep Meadow, all designated as such in the mid-1980s, Karp said.

While the Parks Department would rather musicians move to the top of the steps on the mall, Rachel  — a Brooklynite who has been playing at Bethesda Terrace's arcade with a cellist and guitarist for a year — said nothing compared to the terrace.

"The closest I can come to describing the sound there: it's nothing like a modern concert hall," she told DNAinfo. "It's like playing in a cathedral."

Rachel has had park-goers with tears in their eyes thanking her for playing "Ave Maria," and has never had complaints other than from cops.

Her trio has never received any summonses, but has been threatened several times, especially lately, for allegedly violating noise ordinances or drawing too big a crowd.

On Thursday afternoon — the time slot for the terrace they had pre-arranged with other buskers — authorities asked them to leave the tunnel nearly an hour into their set.

Mike Lerario, who would often stop to hear Central Park musicians during his commute from the Bronx to his construction job in Long Island City, started a Facebook group "Bring Back the Music to Bethesda Fountain in Central Park" to support musicians like Rachel.

"I just loved the music," said Lerario, 51, who moved to Sullivan County after losing his construction job eight months ago. "Most people do. Nobody seems to complain about it. With [843] acres, do we need that to be a quiet area? It's ridiculous. Take a walk through the park. There are more quiet spaces than not."

Lerario, who plays upstate with his band, Corner Shot, is trying to gather musicians this Saturday and bring out his guitar for the first time ever to Central Park.

"I want to get at lest 100 musicians there playing — very quietly," he said. "There are some really not good but great musicians there, and if you see the people, they're not just watching but donating. The majority speaks."

That's the problem, according to Parks officials.

Bethesda Terrace's music-listening crowds covering the steps have damaged its sandstone carvings and that the loud sounds travel over the water to the "Forever Wild" zone in the Ramble, Karp said.

"The public continually complains about the noise, which is daily and most hours of the day," she said. "So, the quiet zone is an attempt simply to move musicians slightly to where they do not affect park users who do not want to hear performance, but accommodate those who do."

Yet, even on CentralPark.com, a resource guide for the park, a write-up on Bethesda Terrace says, it is "known for its spectacular views, people-watching opportunities and frequent appearances by talented street performers."