From the guitar-playing guy in the turban roller-skating up and down Venice Beach, to the Bluesmen of Maxwell Street in Chicago, to the tap-dancing kids on Decatur Street in New Orleans, street performers are a cultural treasure or a damn nuisance – depending on who’s judging. Seems that for every city street that draws performers, there’s a gang of City Fathers who want to get into the act. They have permits to issue. They have rules, restrictions, regulations and ordinances, and they hear music only in decibles, and view performers only as hazards to traffic or business. In Chicago, a bluesman went on an 81-day hunger strike to preserve historic Maxwell Street, the cradle of electric blues. In New Orleans the fight is over sound levels in Jackson Square and it’s never been settled to anyone’s satisfaction. So while city halls everywhere wrestle with First Amendment rights and city statutes, out on the streets musicians are playing, tourists are tipping, and both culture and commerce are being served. Photo: Blues guys on Royal Street in New Orleans, 1999.
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