Kickstarter results; 3rd annual Busker Ball

The Kickstarter closed last night, and thanks to many wonderful friends, musicians, family members, and even unknown Kickstarter aficionados, we made it not just to 100 shirts, but to 135. We’ll be printing them this week and starting to distribute them just after that. Thanks so much, everyone!

On another note, we’d like to point out a concert date that’s not to be missed for those of you in NYC. Theo Eastwind, a long-term NYC busker and an outstanding musician, has organized the 3rd annual Busker Ball for this Wednesday at Spike Hill in Williamsburg. Theo will be performing himself, alongside a handful of the best new busking acts that he’s heard in the last few months. You can catch them all with a complementary ticket ($10 suggested donation). Doors open at 6:30 this Wednesday — and if you make it, find me there!

Polite Police

Busking was funny and kind of slow this past weekend, maybe because of the rain. I spent a lot of time looking for a spot to play, and then giving up good spots to other buskers in solidarity or common courtesy. I think I also got a little bored of myself and made some rather drastic breaks from my regular routine that, while titillating, weren’t really doing me any favors in the long run… [insert clip of american orca whale train party here]
I got heckled and almost attacked by a couple of bros, but also (and probably more relevantly to this project) had to field the weird problem of the Very Polite Police Officer. Apparently, there had been a theft at the Bedford L stop and the cops were surveilling for the suspect and needed full platform visibility, and as a result this basically very sweet, respectful, seemingly understanding policeman kept asking if I could move to the other side of the bench a little further down the platform so the onlookers wouldn’t block his line of sight. I kept trying different places, but in busking, like in hitchhiking, 15 feet can make a huge different, and (besides the unfortunate faux pas of my accidentally pouring a full plate of rice into my suitcase) it really wasn’t happening. It’s hard for me to get belligerent with sweetly tempered people who aren’t being jerks. What to do in this quandary?

#etymology-of-the-void

18/7: How to request the MTA rules booklet

Update: we eventually found a source of official MTA rules pamphlets. They’re available in Downtown Brooklyn at the Transit Adjudication Bureau. The address is 29 Gallatin Place, and the pamphlets are on the 3rd floor on the rack outside the elevator.

Lately we’ve been picking up an increased amount of traffic from Google. Don’t worry, we’re not talking about a flood of thousands yet! But there is definitely targeted traffic coming from buskers — and indeed, last night I got an email with a question specifically on busking legality.

So, like I mentioned yesterday, we’re planning to post more tips and resources for musicians, all the way from macro (class-action suit, you say?) to micro. Today’s subject is how to get your hands on a official booklet version of the MTA Rules of Conduct.

Many of you have seen me walking around, doing my folk-lawyer act, with my trusty blue-and-white booklet of the MTA Rules of Conduct. In fact, I often have it lying in my case while I perform:

IMG_0191

It’s pretty visible, and it may remind transit officers doing routine station-checks that my work is permitted. Who knows — maybe having it out even provides a measure of protection to other buskers? And on a more pragmatic note, I suspect it may even make me a teensy bit more money. We all know where our priorities are!

To request a booklet, go to the MTA online comment tool. You can choose from several categories of request, and I believe either “MTA-wide” or “MTA Police (non-emergency only)” would be a good bet. Then, just write that you’d like to have a copy sent to you, and include your mailing address. You’ll receive a booklet in about two weeks.

Want two copies, to create the much-desired akimbo justice effect? Just ask a friend to submit his or her own request! When it comes to law, the more, the merrier.

16/07: Civilian Complaint Review Board

The original idea for the site was to make legal information about busking accessible online. But, it didn’t take long to see that a jumble of miscellaneous ideas about arrests, complaints, rules, and so forth wouldn’t attract very much traffic, and would consequently be difficult to find through Google, negating the original purpose.

Hence the blog idea — and indeed, I’ve been having a lot of fun sharing stories from underground. (There are so many!) But, it’s time to keep working on the legal aspect, especially now that we have a bit of an audience. We’ll also soon be adding a list of legal posts on the sidebar, so these notes are easily findable for newcomers.

So here’s an important update. Yesterday, I went to the Civilian Complaint Review Board at 40 Rector St., to do an interview in follow-up to a complaint I had filed after my arrest on June 18th.

It’s easy to file a complaint, by the way. Go to this link, and fill out the form or call. You’ll see below why that might be important.

I had actually filed two complaints after the arrest. The first was for wrongful arrest. Essentially, went my complaint, it’s legal to perform, but I was nonetheless arrested for it.

The second was about what the CCRB calls “Abuse of Authority.” When I went back to the Transit District 1 Stationhouse after I was released from Midtown Criminal Court on the 19th, I asked to file a complaint about the arrest. I was told not only that I could not file a complaint there, but in fact that there was no complaint form at all! (As you can see on the CCRB page, that information is not only false, but stationhouses are in fact mandated to accept complaints in person). That conversation ended at that point, because I was threatened with arrest if I didn’t leave the stationhouse.

The CCRB has two ways to pursue complaints. One is to schedule a “Mediation” meeting with the officer in question, and the other is to investigate. However, only certain complaints are in CCRB jurisdiction; the others are referred to other offices like Internal Affairs and the Office of the Chief of Department. (This is, at least, what I was told. I was not the only complainant in the office to experience bureaucracy-induced disorientation!)

When I met with the investigator assigned to my complaint, she immediately knew that the wrongful arrest complaint couldn’t be pursued by the CCRB, because it falls outside their jurisdiction. More on that later.

We did however decide that the abuse of authority complaint could be pursued within the CCRB. So, we did a tape-recorded interview about what happened, and then investigator then asked if I wanted the complaint to go to mediation or to investigation. The process of investigation is outlined in this article by a former investigator that I read last year. The gist of it (as I hazily recall — would that I had more time for this post before getting out the door) is that CCRB investigators make a valiant attempt to substantiate charges, but because they ultimately have no power to impose sanctions, the process is more or less moot.

Point being, I opted for mediation, because it will hopefully lead to a face-to-face meeting with the sergeant who told me I had no way to complain. I have a lot of thinking to do about how to handle that, but my hope is that it could be productive.

And if not, the complaint can always proceed to investigation following the mediation meeting. So, while the CCRB may be unable to impose any kind of sanction, this process still feels tentatively promising with regards to Abuse of Authority.

Now, back to the question of wrongful arrest. My investigator does not make decisions on referrals, and she was not initially able to provide many details on where the complaint could go. (Strange, right? Can I be the only person in NYC to file a complaint over wrongful arrest? Somehow I doubt it).

However, I really worked to advocate for myself and for other buskers who experience harassment. I told her on the record that arrest, harassment, and ignorance of the rules are all widespread problems, as per what I’ve heard in the grassroots, and that I’d like to be heard on that topic, not just about my own arrest. Further, I told her that the NYPD might well be interested in seeking a solution, i.e. reducing the amount of harassment, if the issue is brought to their attention through the right channels.

The end result is ambiguous: my complaint will be reviewed and referred, hopefully within the next two months. The theory I fleshed out with the investigator is that my personal wrongful arrest claim will go to the bureau responsible for those complaints, I believe the Office of the Chief of Department, and that follow-up on performers’ rights may, fingers crossed, be brought to the notice of Internal Affairs for a meeting.

So, touch wood on that one. I do hope this post outlines many reasons why the CCRB can help us with self-advocacy, and would love to hear from performers who have had experiences with CCRB in the past. And, I’ll keep the updates coming about all of these threads — especially the possibility of Internal Affairs!

13/07: Kickstarter

Hi all! It’s time to FUNDRAISE. Here’s why:

Performers have been in the MTA for over a hundred years, and have been legal since 1985.

But many station managers, police officers, and passers-by don’t know that we’re legal. Consequently, of the hundred-odd performers I’ve talked to, almost everyone has been made to leave a station by police, and more than a few have been handcuffed and taken away — for playing music!

We believe one of the best ways to address this is by getting the word out there: Music is Legal! But how do you communicate that information to five million daily riders, thousands of police, and hundreds of station managers?

Well, fortunately, there are hundreds of us. So here’s our idea: we make t-shirts like this one:

IMG_0167Then we give one to every performer, for free, and ask them to play once a week with the shirt. We’re sure it’ll reach millions of MTA riders. Can you imagine a subway where police and station managers celebrate music? We think it’s possible.

Do you want to help make this a reality? Go to our Kickstarter project, “Music is Legal!,” and make a pledge. When we meet our funding goal, we’ll make 100 of these shirts — and you’ll receive one as a reward.

And please: help spread the word by linking to the project or to this post.  Have a question or a suggestion? Contact us!

Bottom of That Barrel

I hope it’s not an ill omen that my first blog post for buskny recounts a day of botched performances. It’s been a long hop and a skip since the last day I went to work and only actually made $1. But I’m going to count this as one of those penitential days you have to pay to get the sucking out of your system in preparation for torrential landslide success… and I do generally share the suspicion that if I go out to warm up on Thursday, even if I don’t do that well, I’ll play better on Friday.

Anyways, after a seemingly endless and fruitless search for a pitch, I set up my little box on the far end of a platform this evening wearing my regular collage of burlap and pink rags, and did a few new “puppet shows”. Excerpts from the captions scrawled on my chalkboard include “I understand everything,” “horrible ontology family tree,” and “P03xx1mM0Gft7x0LN28”. A new addition, the Gutted Dolphin Hat, happily bobbed beside my regular pacha mama tiger, and most of my onlookers seemed generally interested, but distracted. Say Lah Vee. There really is no math in this line of work.

I did however reconnect with several old friends and compatriots underground, with whom I shared information about buskny, and also landed a flier for the upcoming NYC Busker’s Ball on the 24th, which portentous happening oozed auspicious coincidence (let’s go there). Nice to meet you!

-Kalan

Busking log 11/07: flash mob contra at Grand Central

Today brought two new examples of the diversity and the high quality of the arts performed in the NYC transit system. (I suppose I’m preaching to the choir here — but it never hurts to remind ourselves of how broad this community is!)

  1. I had the chance to perform for a contra dance in Grand Central Station’s Vanderbilt Hall. Can’t beat the location! It was organized by local dancer as a “flash mob” event. The band and dancers were sauntering about incognito, then quickly lined up for a dance, and were gone again as soon as it ended. (Video will come soon). Passers-by greatly enjoyed the show, and although police did arrive to stop the dance, they were persuaded to hold off for a few minutes until it ended. Thanks, officers, for letting the music continue.
  2. In the 14th St tunnel from 7th to 6th Ave, Milo and I happened upon a truly, truly outstanding cellist. Of course, more than a few people perform the cello suites underground, some for practice, and some for art. But not all of them are, like this guy, Eastman School of Music graduates, and very few of them can light up a tunnel like this. Thanks, Wayne. Keep it up, and we’ll see you around!

Busking log 10/07: he plays pianoforti

I’m dead tired after a long day of commuting, busking, frisbee, and BuskNY conniving with Milo and Kalan. Three quick stories from today:

  1. 68th St Hunter College: a man approaches and says, in the thickest of Russian accents: “You play pianoforti?” “Alas, I play only the violin,” I tell him. “I play pianoforti.” I nod. There’s a pause, then a train begins to pull in. “Next time, I bring pianoforti. We play.” Rest assured, I’ll update you all immediately if (when?) this occurs.
  2. 68th St, ten minutes later: a woman tells me I remind her of “the music they played when I grew up on P.E.I.” What a great compliment! (Well, except that I was playing Irish tunes. Apparently the Iona session is having its effect on me). It’s surprising how many people have experienced traditional dance music in our hemisphere not just as “folk,” but as a living tradition. Always great to hear!
  3. 81st St: ’tis the season for kids’ summer programs, and that means the museum is filled with visiting groups. I get the most amazing reactions — imagine a stream of 40 ten-year-olds coming by, and half of them saying “wow, a violin! Can you play something?” They were on the move, unfortunately, but I played them snippets of the Bach violin sonatas, the Accolay concerto, and the cello suites, and asked which they liked best. Their group leaders kept telling them not to listen, which made me a bit glum. (“Don’t be distracted, kids!”) But then, just at the end of the last group, one group leader took a different approach. “Keep walking,” she said. “But listen!”

9/07: New contributor!

A big welcome to Kalan Sherrard!

I met Kalan last month on the Union Square L platform. I was waiting for a train, and he was in the process of being removed by a cop. I hurried over with my copy of the rules, but alas: the rule of law just isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. He did manage to give me his card on the way out — and now here we are!

Kalan brings a wealth of experience in busking, and, importantly, an angle on non-musical performance. (It’s hard to sum up his show in a few words, but you can see excerpts on his site). And although this project is focused on issues local to New York, it’ll be great to have perspective from him on the larger picture of busking and arts advocacy.

He’ll be posting regularly on the blog, as well as contributing to flyer and t-shirt distribution underground. So keep your eyes peeled!