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!

Advertisements

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.

buskny_shirt_printing 002

135 t-shirts

buskny_shirt_printing 011

Printing the first shirt.

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

buskny_shirt_printing 009

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.

buskny_shirt_printing 014

And he bought us food!

buskny_shirt_printing 023

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.

buskny_shirt_printing 046

About half of the finished shirts.

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

7/25: Arrest: how the decision is made

Summary:

If you are approached by police while performing in accordance with MTA rules, you have the right to continue your work. It is highly recommended to film the encounter, to display the MTA rules (we’ll mail you a copy free), and to state the officer’s badge number out loud.

If you are arrested for doing so, you have not committed a crime, and you have the right to a wrongful arrest lawsuit. See “Who To Call” for more information on doing so.

So, the big news from today is that I was arrested for a third time. Here’s how it happened:

I arrived at 68th St at 12:10 PM, unpacked, stood up with the instrument, and saw a police officer on the other platform as I did so. He shined his flashlight at me and shouted: “Not today!”

Well, it just so happens that I believe that music’s legal. So I hollered back: “Yes! Today!” Then I launched “Gigue” from the third Bach partita, and the officer set off for the stairs to reach my platform.

By the time he reached me, I had my instrument in its case to avoid damage. He told me to leave, I asked why, and this is what we established as the situation:

I then said that I was clear on the rules [“The following nontransit uses are permitted by the Authority, provided they do not impede transit activities and they are conducted in accordance with these rules: public speaking; campaigning; leafletting or distribution of written noncommercial materials; activities intended to encourage and facilitate voter registration; artistic performances, including the acceptance of donations; solicitation for religious or political causes; solicitation for charities.”], and that I would continue to perform until given a summons or being arrested.

Officer Kennedy — who had given me his name and badge number on request — said he would “call a unit” to arrest me, and that in the meantime, I could speak with the station manager. I went up, called Milo to say I’d be arrested soon, and talked to the station manager. This is what I found out:

I went back downstairs to meet my fate, and shortly afterward, two more officers arrived, one in a blue shirt and one white-shirt. They conferred with Officer Kennedy, then left without talking to me. After that, I waited for a possible arrest on my platform, and Officer Kennedy waited across the tracks without saying a word. I felt about like this:

After a long period of waiting, I wanted to work or be arrested, not sit around and be scared of some pseudo-legal threat. So, I got out the violin again. Officer Kennedy waved his arms, disappeared upstairs, and came back down a minute later with a new story, this time about a non-existent permit:

Since he was back in my face, I asked what options there were at that point. He still wanted me to leave “voluntarily”, which is how the NYPD says “through intimidation and without any legal justification.” I wasn’t having it and asked again if he would proceed to arrest:

Now, I’m not sure what was said in his initial meeting with his superiors, but I think he had cold feet at this point. In any case, he called for backup a second time, and I got to talk to Officer Bastien, who asked why it was legal to play:

Strangely, his curiosity about the law seemed to evaporate when he had the chance to have a copy of the rules in his hands. He changed to a new tactic, telling me that the rules could be “overruled” in the case of a safety problem.

Here’s the second part of his explanation of why police officers can decide the law:

I understand what he was saying, but what I didn’t see was the safety problem on that platform, which I repeatedly pointed out was quite empty. He finally said that he couldn’t explain the problem since he wasn’t there when I was asked to leave, and I asked if Officer Kennedy could explain it to me again:

Check out that long pause when he’s asked if Officer Kennedy can identify a safety concern. The reason he comes up with: “He asked you to stop playing and you would not stop.” So essentially, I was performing, there was no safety concern — but when I was then asked to leave the station and refused despite intimidation, THEN there was a safety concern.

And THIS reasoning, ladies and gentlemen, justified my arrest. Just after this video, Officer Bastien walked over to his superior, Sgt. Robson. There was a ten-second conversation, then Sgt. Robson approached me, ordered me to put my hands behind my back, and had me step against the wall.

7/25: Busker Ball; ghosts of ’11

Milo and I just got back from Theo Eastwind’s 3rd Annual Busker Ball — and you should be sorry that you missed it! We stayed the full five hours with grins on our faces. If you want to hear one reason why, here’s a quick sample from Elijah Bridges, which I hope he won’t mind me posting. (A bit low-fi — but check that harmonica!)

For me, it was a bit of a tear-jerker too. These days I hear buskers in the subway every last day of my life, of course, but it’s different to have the evening to ourselves. For one thing, talent can do a lot more when it has hour-long sets to work with. (It also doesn’t hurt to have no trains coming through). I’m not saying that I forget how much artistry is in busking — but still, is it ever great to get a reminder of how high the high points can be. So thanks, Theo Eastwind, for making this happen!

One more thing. Just as we were taking off, we ran into Jesse Cohen, who played the third set. He asked if I had played the first set, since I was carrying my case. “No,” I said, “I was just out busking beforehand, that’s all. I play fiddle.” There was a pause — I could see the gears turning — and then, just about at the same moment, we realized that Jesse and I had shared a van the night we were both arrested in 2011.

I don’t want to retell that whole story here  — soon, perhaps — but Jesse was already in the van when me and my fiddle were thrown in head-first that night. I was scared half to death at the time, and Jesse was the first bit of sanity I found and clung to. We were put in different cells on arrival and never swapped contact information, so we’ve been looking for each other for the last two years. And now, here we are. It’s a great big community, busking in NYC, but it seems smaller all the time.

Busking log 7/23: Mandos’R’Us; busking with Hannah

Things have been quiet here for the last week, both because we’ve been hard at work with the Kickstarter, and because I was as sick as a horse all weekend. Also, the whole of last week was above 90° — and that’s a no-go for performing!

But, we’ve been using the time off to good ends. For instance, BuskNY now has a mandolin:

twang! twang!

Granted, it sounds like a cheapo instrument. But that’s great — it is, in fact, an ultra-cheapo instrument!

It went through a trial by fire yesterday when I busked with my pal Hannah, who I used to play with in the Annandale Ramblers, at the 57th St F station. We were out informally — finished with the workday and volunteer-two-hours, respectively, and we had an hour to kill before the Scottish session at the Iona. That meant that we had no stools, which led to logistical difficulties with the mando. (It’s really hard to pin it against your body while picking — especially when you start sweating!)

Nonetheless, we had a blast. I got to work on my chording, which is a work in progress — but the audience really enjoyed it. Whether for the music or for the sense of humor, we don’t know! But in any case, we made good money, even à deux, and certainly had good fun. To be repeated!

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!

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!”