The City of Charleston has lifted its ban on street musicians performing near the City Market, ending a quiet spell at the popular tourist destination. Performers are allowed to play for tips on North and South Market Street sidewalks once again, and the city's attorneys are in the process of writing new rules to propose to City Council.
Glenn Orange, a guitarist who led the crusade to bring music back to the Market since police changed their enforcement of city ordinances late in the summer of 2012, says he owes a debt of gratitude to other artists who lent their support and advice. Orange, a tour guide and an actor at the Black Fedora Comedy Mystery Theatre, arranged numerous meetings with Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr., the past and present directors of the Office of Cultural Affairs, and Police Chief Gregory Mullen. "I do think we did score a very big victory for performers' rights," Orange says.
Under the current interpretation of city ordinances, street performers are required to get background checks and pay for peddlers' permits. As peddlers, they are prohibited from busking in and around the Waterfront Park, South of Broad, King Street, and the S.C. Aquarium, an arrangement that makes it difficult for some performers to collect decent tips.
Frances Cantwell, an assistant city attorney, says the city's legal team will spend some time over the next few months studying other cities' street musician policies. When asked if they might recommend drawing a distinction between peddlers and buskers, Cantwell said, "Very possibly. I mean, that might be where it comes down, because I think there is a distinction and a difference." The attorneys' recommendation will go before City Council, who will then decide whether to adopt any new ordinances.
In February, the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina took up the case of Jeff Masin, a one-man band who came to town and unwittingly received a citation for peddling on the Market. A judge dropped the case, but ACLUSC Legal Director Susan Dunn said she was "hoping to create enough smoke that the city might consider looking at these things and revising them in ways that are more protective of First Amendment rights."
As for Orange, he can now be seen on weekends at the corner of Church and South Market streets, playing for tips. He has started using a smaller travel guitar and lowering his voice out of deference to Market vendors who complained about the noise, but he says music is part of the scene.
"It's the Market," Orange says. "You hear the musicians, you're gonna have the motorcycles rattling, you're gonna smell the horse piss, and it's all part of one great city."