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Michigan Avenue Street Performers Fire Back At Alderman's 'No-Play' Zones

By David Matthews | January 27, 2017 6:34am
 Preyas Roy, 32, has been playing the vibraphone on Michigan Avenue for three years.
Preyas Roy, 32, has been playing the vibraphone on Michigan Avenue for three years. "Music in public makes public a fun place to be," he said.
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DNAinfo/David Matthews

DOWNTOWN — Preyas Roy studied math and physics in school, but he makes his living now playing his vibraphone on Michigan Avenue. 

At least when high-rise neighbors allow it. 

"I understand what I do is pretty loud," Roy said. "I try to accommodate, but sometimes I can't."

Roy, 32, of Hyde Park is one of many street performers who descend upon Downtown every day hoping to score tips from tourists and other passersby. 

Business is good for Roy, who said he makes about $150 a day in the three years he's played his vibraphone fulltime on Michigan Avenue, usually near the Chicago Cultural Center or Art Institute. 

But his good days might be numbered, at least if a new proposed ordinance that would push him and other performers off the street makes it through the City Council. 

"Music in public makes public a fun place to be," Roy said.

Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) on Wednesday introduced his latest attempt to curtail the Downtown street musicians adored for years by pedestrians but hated by those who live and work nearby. 

Reilly, whose ward covers most of Downtown, wants to bar street musicians from the busy stretch of Michigan Avenue that makes up most of the Mag Mile and runs along Grant Park. Performers would also be blocked from a mile-long stretch of State Street.

Reilly's proposed ordinance pertains specifically to performers who "emit noise that is audible to a person with normal hearing more than 20 feet away."

Street musicians are already barred from the streets near the Petrillo Music Shell in Grant Park or Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park while official performances are underway.

The proposal isn't the first time Reilly has moved to appease neighbors who have flooded his office and police with complaints about noise Downtown. Reilly introduced another measure in 2009 attempting to crack down on musicians who violate the city's noise ordinance. Last year his staffers told neighbors to write "letters of concern" as his office drafted rules on street performers. 

Reilly didn't return a message seeking comment.

The ordinance would bar street musicians from both sides of Michigan Avenue between Cedar Street and Balbo Avenue, a long stretch replete with the tourists who give street performers money. The ordinance would also keep musicians from playing State Street between Jackson Boulevard and Huron Street. 

Roy doubted that such widespread bans could be enforced, saying street performers such as him "adapt."

"It's illegal to play by the [sports] games, but if you go to the games the street musicians are there," he said. 

Still, he's worried about getting pushed off Downtown's lucrative, tourist-heavy corners. He also denied the "good vibes" he tries to spread with his vibraphone are a public nuisance. He points to New Orleans and New York as cities that embrace street performers as part of their social fabric.

"We wouldn't be getting paid if people didn't like what we do," Roy said. "These streets are gray. The sounds — the bus, the cars — suck. Music is necessary."

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