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How Pandhandling Laws Are A Bust For Buskers In Downtown Miami

Pocket of Lollipops

Miami's crackdown on homelessness may have negatively impacted the artist community. Street performers, also called buskers, travel to metropolitan areas to strum songs in front of an open guitar case left for passersby to toss in money if they desire. But in Miami, they can't.

That's what local Justin Trieger of the band Somewhat Hungover found this past August, when he presented an idea for Buskerfest, a music festival. He would invite a string of local musicians to play outside Metromover stations, alluding to the busker tradition of playing in subways. Attendees would ride the free Metromover to each performance, and donate at will.

But when Trieger submitted a proposal to the city of Miami, he learned officials would not allow an authentic busker festival -- no dollar bills being thrown into hats after performances. Why not? Because of Miami's anti-panhandling laws, which make accepting tips in a hat against the law.

While the city accepted his proposal for the most part, Trieger and his crew were not able to convince officials to waive the no-panhandling law for the event.

So he intends to work within the constraints. When Buskerfest starts at 5 p.m. Friday, Dec. 13, attendees who want to tip the artists still can -- but they'll have to do so online.

"People can donate using their mobile phone through a WePay.com button on our site," Trieger says. "It's like dropping money into a virtual guitar case."

Cash donations will also be accepted in an authorized area in Bayfront Park, where headliners the Spam Allstars will perform.

Buskerfest artist Lou Roman, of the sketch-acting troupe Front Yard Theatre Collective, feels this festival loses its authenticity due to the city's panhandling laws. He is big on busking, and was part of a percussion street jam during Art Basel.

"I'm sure what the city is worried about is vagrants bugging people. A busk is not panhandling, but Miami might not see it that way," he says. "During Art Basel weekend it seems like anything can go, but an isolated event like this one, the city might see it much differently and not allow people to do whatever they want."

"Busking is not done a lot in Miami, so when I'm traveling I do it wherever I can," Roman says.

The Spam Allstars' DJ Andrew Yeomanson grew up in London, where busking is supported by the city. He says he got into busking to overcome his shyness and stage fright, and says it's never been about the tips.

"I see busking as a street performance, a very old thing where a musician will play for passersby," he says. "When you play outside, in the subway, you may hope you get a tip, but you play for other things than getting tips from people. In the streets, you interact with your audience in a different way and this experience opens you up to a new world of possibilities."

Buskerfest organizer Trieger says his event is a way to provide emerging musicians and artists performance space. He also wants to see panhandling-law reform so street performers can work the area. Yeomanson still believes the experience is worth it for artists despite the lack of tips.

"Our performance [Friday night], you can't call it busking because we're on stage, but what the other performers are doing falls under busking," he says. "I don't think the money thing is important, it's the street performance that counts. But, hey, maybe we'll pass out a hat."

Buskerfest Miami goes on Friday, Dec. 13, from 5 to 9 p.m. For lineup and food-and-drink details, visit BuskerfestMiami.com.

Credit Spam Allstars