City responds to busking lawsuit

And I’m not thrilled with it.

Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

Lawyers argued in a motion to dismiss a federal lawsuit Friday that the city is beholden to keeping its streets and sidewalks safe, and that striking down the decades-old ordinance limiting where buskers — musicians who play in public places — can set up shop is not in its best interest. The law became the target of a lawsuit in January when Houston musician Anthony Barilla contended it violates the First Amendment.

While busking — the performing of music in public places — is mostly unrestricted in cities, such as Seattle, New York City, lawyers argue Houston is not that kind of town.

“Houstonians have a noted tendency to congregate in areas indoors, or even underground, to ‘avoid the heat of the summer, traffic, and inclement weather,’” the motion states.

Another worry to Houston is that loosening the ordinance would condone “unregulated competitors, obstructions of access, or objectionable noise.”


The city’s lengthy response to Barilla’s lawsuit goes as far to suggest how he could make money outside the Theater District — without soliciting tips, such as encouraginh pedestrians to “subscribe to his podcast or YouTube channel, asking them to purchase his music online, or asking them to attend upcoming concerts for which he will be compensated.”

See here for the background. The bit about “obstructions of access, or objectionable noise” I can understand, though surely those could be addressed by less-restrictive means. The rest, I don’t quite get what point the city’s attorneys are trying to make. For that matter, I don’t quite understand the principle that is being defended by the city here. What is the harm the city is trying to mitigate? I really don’t see how allowing street musicians to set up in non-downtown locations is going to cause chaos. Let’s please work towards a settlement and an amendment of that 1991 ordinance. We have better things to do than fight this.

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3 Responses to City responds to busking lawsuit

  1. mollusk says:

    Even downtown street musicians don’t create chaos or traffic jams. They generally have the good sense to stay next to a light pole or planter, if for no other reason than to protect their instruments. There used to be a guy who played sax around Main and McKinney; you could hear him well upstairs and it was actually sorta pleasant.

  2. Jason Hochman says:

    These crazy Houston government people, always going after something that is not a problem, while ignoring real problems. If people don’t go outside because it’s too hot for them, how is the busker going to obstruct access. Why do competitors need to be regulated? Isn’t capitalism about unregulated competition

  3. Daniel Jackson says:

    A flaccid response from the city attorneys.

    I could’ve shat a better argument when I was in high school.

    Not that I should’ve. I really hope Tony wins.

    No city with busking bans has business banning busking. While they’re ticketing a busker, someone else is getting robbed, raped or murdered.

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