The Somerville Board of Aldermen voted Thursday to allow street performers to perform legally for the first time in many years.but with some limitations. The Street Musicians and Performance Ordinance, allows street performance in public places but musicians need to be non-amplified in order to be completely safe from fines. Amplification is not banned outright it is subject to a complaint procedure that may vary according to location, mood of the community and direction of the wind. Alderman-At-Large John Connolly said, “If the wind is blowing from the north or northwest, it comes right down the [Davis Square] busway, the music and the voice will sound like it’s in my backyard. Naturally one of the first things my neighbors will do is call me, and say, we love music, but when you can’t turn the volume down it’s a problem. In other words if someone complains of the noise of a performer and they are amplified then they will be subject to a fine. However if no one complains then there may be no fine.
The ambiguity of this facet of the new ordinance is bound to be a trouble spot for some as it is subjective at best. It is conceivable that a performer who uses amplification may perform successfully in a place one day and on another be subject to a fine simply because someone get annoyed or is in a bad mood that day.
While there is no question that the Council wants to avoid distractions to business and peace for residents from noise interfering with transactions in the marketplace and enjoyment of ones home, and that successful business areas create better opportunities for performers, it is also true that this will be a problem for some performers and may limit the enjoyment of a greater variety of performance for the visitor. It means that not only will electric guitar be a problem but also almost any keyboard. Acrobats, dancers and jugglers who almost always have recorded music will find it difficult to entertain.
Performing will be allowed between the hours of 7am and 10pm, 100 feet from a school, library, or church, as long as it does not block a sidewalk or other public way.
The Council will probably take up the issue of permits for performers soon to keep performers from monopolizing a choice spot and keeping others from being able to perform their. Smart permitting may also be a solution for the problem of amplification as well.
The new ordinance reflects the growing awareness in communities all over the world of the value of street culture.