Chicago Street Musicians Worry They’ll Be Regulated Out of Downtown

Street Musicians in San Francisco (Credit: Brocken Inaglory)

A new set of street performer restrictions could hush one-man bands and saxophone players along some of Chicago’s most traveled downtown streets — but a group of musicians and the ACLU are pushing back.

The proposed changes are sponsored by alderman Brendan Reilly of the 42nd Ward, which encompasses most of downtown, and would forbid musicians from playing heavily trafficked sections of Michigan Avenue and State Street unless “their performances could not be heard at a distance of 20 feet,” the Chicago Tribune reports.

Similar restrictions already apply to several other streets, and street performers are banned in Millennium Park. Currently, performers are allowed along most of Michigan and State if their music doesn’t “exceed normal conversation levels” at 100 feet away, according to the Tribune — but Reilly says that police find that dictate difficult to enforce. As a result, officers typically tell performers to move two blocks away, but Reilly has said that that moves “the noise from block to block, generating new complaints on each” and “resulting in more calls for service to 911 and then more utilization of our scarce police resources downtown.”

After a meeting Tuesday with a group of street musicians, however, Reilly agreed to put off a council vote on the new plan, the Tribune reports.

The plan has also received pushback from the ACLU. In a letter addressed to local aldermen, ACLU senior staff counsel Rebecca K. Glenberg wrote that the “street performer ordinance already has serious First Amendment problems,” according to the Chicago Sun Times.

“The proposed amendments to the ordinance would add new restrictions that cannot satisfy constitutional standards, leaving the city open to a strong likelihood of litigation,” she wrote.

For now, Reilly says he’s looking into other places the performers could play, including parks and subways, the Tribune reports.

Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.

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