8/17: BuskNY’s back in town!

BuskNY’s back!

The last few days have been busy, both with busking and because I’ve taken on a commitment as the volunteer ESL instructor for a summer after-school program. That said, I’m still finding time to busk and to do community outreach. And we’re looking forward to having Kalan back in town soon as well, which will double our boots on the ground.

In any case, today brought big news. I spoke by phone with a violinist who received a wrongful summons (‘blocking traffic’ for a solo violinist playing in the evening, written expressly once she had asked for the officer’s badge number.) She was adjudicated guilty at her first hearing, but we’ve gotten her in touch with an attorney and are looking forward to a fairer outcome on appeal.

Then, I met another performer who’s received a summons, this time with a charge of ‘disorderly conduct,’ for playing guitar and singing on the platform. Her court date is just before mine, at the beginning of September, and we’re looking forward to seeing that thrown right out with a lawsuit to boot.

And finally, I met a jazz saxophonist — an excellent one — who’s been arrested no fewer than five times for acoustic, rule-abiding performances. Is that unjust? Well, apparently New York City judges think so: they’ve dropped the charges all five times. Can’t even say how much I look forward to seeing this go back to a court of law — this time with the real wrong-doers as the defendants.

Pretty exciting for one day’s developments. Justice, justice, we’ll get you one day!

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8/5: State of the busk

I’m taking off tomorrow morning for a week in Vermont. So, it’s a good moment to look at what we’ve done and learned so far this summer:

  1. We’ve gotten the website and associated Twitter and Facebook pages up and running, with decent visibility and traffic. Also, one of our videos currently stands at 7,641 views, which I think is pretty great. One of our original goals was to establish a web presence for practical legal information about busking arrests — so we’re making good progress there.
  2. The “Music is Legal!” shirts have been printed, and we’ve distributed about 20 so far. They look great, and we’re happy to see ’em in the subway.
  3. Our mailing list is expanding fast. We hope not to use it often, apart from a couple reminders about the possibility of lawsuits. But if and when rules changes are proposed at the MTA, it’ll be the subway arts’ weapon for organization. Si vis pacem, para bellum!
  4. Our harassment database has also grown to over 20 incidents. Not bad, considering it came into being two weeks ago — but also not good, if you believe that subway artists shouldn’t be being illegally harassed. But in any case, the problem is starting to be documented on a broader scale than it has been before, and that may be a solution in the making.
  5. We’ve started to develop strategies for protecting performers proactively, including visibly displaying rules pamphlets and tracking police incidents back to misinformation with station managers. Big hopes for the future on this front…

One other thing: through a lot of conversations in the last few weeks, I’ve heard how hard it’s been for many performers because of wrongful harassment. I’m still the only one I know who’s been hit by a cop for playing the violin — but I’m not the only one who’s been harassed, or hurt, or chased out, or yelled out, or arrested. This is not a non-issue, folks, and we’re going to hit back as hard as we can.

And, a couple goals for the future:

  1. More lawsuits. With the harassment database growing and the news that you can sue for a wrongful summons, this is the time to take a bite out of the NYPD for its failure to train its officers on the laws of New York City. We’ll be psyched to see some notices of claim filed soon!
  2. More community involvement here. Given the basis we’ve established so far and the importance of public performance to the NYC arts scene, we think an organization in this role can be productive in the long term in this city. We’d like to start taking steps to make this more sustainable — and that includes getting friends and peers writing here and involved in planning and decision-making. More on this to come soon!

My 7 AM Megabus beckons, so that’s all for now. I’ll be enjoying a break from the blog for the week — but based on what we’ve heard and done so far, I’ll be looking forward to getting back to work just as much. See you soon, New York!

7/28: What I learned yesterday

Yesterday brought us an article in Gothamist, a flurry of discussion on Twitter and Facebook, and thousands of views between here and YouTube. Here’s what I learned:

1. New Yorkers love their music, and they want their musicians protected. Response to the story was overwhelmingly supportive and affirmative of the power and importance of public music.

2. New Yorkers have seen musicians harassed and arrested. I read through a lot of comments, and let me tell you, I’m not the first musician that these readers have seen escorted out of a station. Why doesn’t that news spread? Because there’s no central forum to share it — and we’re working to change that.

3. New Yorkers love their music — but they don’t always know it’s legal. Many comments from supporters still expressed unsureness or confusion about the rules. And that haziness in the public consciousness translates into a haziness in police practice, which results in harassment, summonses, and arrests. Let’s fix that: New York, Music is Legal!

Printing the “Music is Legal!” shirts

The shirts arrived Thursday evening, and since I only had two days available to print them before losing access to my studio space (and I’m spending Sunday helping to install my show at the Painting Center), we had to rush to get them done.

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135 t-shirts

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Printing the first shirt.

With only two people, it took seven or eight hours to finish the front side of all 135 shirts.

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We started with the pink shirts.

My cousin Zeke took a detour into the city on his way up the Appalachian Trail, and he offered to help us print the backs. With his help, we finished them in four hours.

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And he bought us food!

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The print shop’s mustachioed Pratt Cat, who is most often found sleeping in the paper guillotine’s scrap bin, visited us in the silkscreen lab.

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About half of the finished shirts.

Matthew and Kalan will start distributing them to subway performers this week. Remember: Music is Legal!

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!

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!

Busking log 6/07: Screen-printing, movie-making

As promised, today was spent hard at work on the sample run of BuskNY t-shirts. (I can disclose by now that we’re planning a Kickstarter, with one modest goal: equipping every last NYC busker with a bright, dashing “Music is Legal!” t-shirt).

We started with the acetate sheets, which Milo had inked with the “Music is Legal!” design.

ink on acetate

The design was then transferred to the screens, a process which involved this large, frightening vacuum machine:

don't ask: i don't know what's going on either!

In the end, we succeeded in printing all 7 shirts. (Well, okay — two were bloopers, but only because of me!) Here’s the final product:can't wait to wear 'em!

We also spent a number of hours filming and editing for the Kickstarter video, which is now complete. We had a lot of fun with it, and think you will too. The Kickstarter approval process takes a few days, so stay tuned — it’ll be up before we know it!

In the meantime, we’ll be back to regular busking updates soon. After all, one’s gotta make rent somehow around here!