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Rahm's A Fan Of Street Musicians, Will Work On Compromise Instead Of Ban

By  Heather Cherone and David Matthews | February 22, 2017 12:27pm 

 A man plays saxophone on Michigan Avenue.
A man plays saxophone on Michigan Avenue.
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Flickr/FaceMePLS

DOWNTOWN — Street musicians will be able to continue to play along Michigan Avenue and State Street after a Downtown alderman delayed his effort to turn down the racket.

Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said he would try to find alternative locations for the musicians to play before bringing the measure back to the City Council.

Matt McGrath, a spokesman for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, said the mayor's office would work with Reilly on a solution.

“Personally, the mayor enjoys street performances and believes they add to this city’s unique cultural fabric," McGrath said. "Our team is working with Alderman Reilly on balancing the needs of downtown residents and businesses with preserving these musicians’ rights and ability to make some money — and we’re optimistic we’ll be able to strike that balance.”

Several hours before the Council meeting, the Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union warned aldermen and Mayor Rahm Emanuel that the measure banning street musicians along Michigan Avenue from Cedar Street to Balbo Avenue and State Street between Jackson Boulevard and Huron Street violates the First Amendment of the Constitution.

The crackdown would essentially target any street performer louder than a mime. Performers who "emit noise that is audible to a person with normal hearing more than 20 feet away" would be barred.

A similar ordinance in Seattle — which was less broad — was struck down by a judge, which means Chicago's measure is even more likely to be blocked by the courts, according to a letter from the ACLU Senior Staff Counsel Rebecca K. Glenberg.

If the measure is adopted, the city is opening itself to a strong likelihood of litigation, Glenberg wrote.

Street musicians already are 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 city's proposed crackdown would affect performers such as Pete Solomon.

Solomon, 28, has worked security and waited tables at popular restaurants such as Park Grille in Millennium Park and the Walnut Room in the State Street Macy's since graduating from Iowa State University with a business management degree. 

But life has been more lucrative for Solomon the last six years, ever since he ditched those jobs for one dancing with the Fanatiks Dance Crew on the Mag Mile. Solomon said he can make as much as $1,000 on a nice summer day. 

"Michigan [Avenue] is where all the high-end stores are; that's where people will give you $100, $50 just because they like you," Solomon said. 

"I have a degree. I can find something else to do, but this is what I love to do," Solomon said. 

The proposal is the work of Reilly, who's fielded complaints for years from high-rise office workers and residents about the bucket boys and other street musicians. He proposed a similar yet unsuccessful ordinance in 2009 tied to decibel levels and the city's noise ordinance. 

Tying performers' noise to distance is easier to police. That was good news to the Michigan Avenue buildings that started a petition against the bucket boys in 2015, or the Loop residents who have complained to Reilly and police for years about their noisy neighbors. 

"It'd be great if they could learn more than two songs," one neighbor said at a Downtown community policing meeting last year. 

But Preyas Roy, 32, who plays his vibraphone nearly every day on Michigan Avenue, doesn't think the proposal will do anything to help with Downtown noise. Many street performers have city permits, but the majority of street performer noise complaints are against unlicensed acts, he says. 

Roy, who says "music in public makes public a fun place to be," said a crackdown will "darken" visits to Downtown Chicago and silence an "essential facet" of the city's ambience.

The bucket boys — or the young men who play drum beats on buckets for tips — trace their origins to Bronzeville's long gone Robert Taylor Homes. Many famous musicians, including BB King, Tracy Chapman and Rod Stewart got their start playing street corners. 

"Chicago's history is a history of American music, the city has one of the richest traditions of musical innovation and public performance in the world," Roy said. "As citizens and members of this community we cannot sit by and allow the proposed ordinance to silence the music of Chicago's streets."

Reilly attempted a compromise by saying the CTA should allow more street musicians, but Solomon and other street performers think that effort is less than sincere. 

"The train, you have two-three minutes to get everybody's attention," Solomon said. 

"Michigan Avenue and State Street ... these two streets host the vast majority of of the city's pedestrian traffic, and the vast majority of the city's tourist traffic," Roy said. "The amendment is a catastrophic restriction."

Dancing Downtown is Solomon's job. Roy thinks playing the vibraphone in public is his constitutional right. Both men say they'll just perform somewhere else if the city's new proposal makes them leave Michigan Ave. 

And it'll likely be somewhere in Reilly's ward.

"A loophole in the situation, maybe somewhere like Navy Pier," Solomon said. 

 

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