"Buskers" is an unusual word in these parts, but it’s cropping up with increasing frequency as a bill makes its way down the pike in the City Council. It means "street performers," and Mayor Martin Chavez was looking to institute a permitting process for them. AJ Carian, deputy director of the city's Cultural Services Department, worked with Councilor Isaac Benton on a measure that would require Albuquerque's street performers to purchase a $7 one-year permit.
Even though Benton was the bill's sponsor, he had his reservations. "I ended up sponsoring it, because they asked me to, and because I was concerned about the issue. But as it turned out, I ended up making a significant amendment to what they proposed," he says.
For starters, he took the permit out of the permitting bill and removed all the regulatory measures except to say that it's legal to busk. "It's skinnied down to all that it should have been in my mind," says Benton.
Benton's not anticipating any resistance from fellow councilors when they vote on the revised bill. "Everybody seemed to agree that busking is by its very nature ad hoc, and it's free speech. It's not something that ought to be regulated."
When the bill will be brought before the full Council hasn't yet been decided.
As the Council considers legalizing something that wasn't necessarily illegal to begin with, one Albuquerque band is struggling through a permitting process every week to perform weekend nights on the Downtown streets: Slippery Weazel, a trio of guys named Ryan. When they began performing about 18 months ago, things were easy. Every weekend from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. the group would play for crowds of partiers exiting the clubs. Ryan Inman isn't 21, and with stiffer penalties for New Mexico bars caught serving to minors, it's been hard to get a gig. So the band took to the streets.
Then an officer began hassling them, saying it was illegal for them to be plugged into city power. The band went from department to department trying to find out who they needed to get permission from to use power. Bureaucracy stacked on bureaucracy until Slippery Weazel showed up at a Council meeting in December to plea for help in negotiating the process. Benton was sympathetic. He'd seen Slippery Weazel perform and wanted to help.
These days, one of the band's Ryans attends a safety meeting every Tuesday at 10 a.m. "With work and school and everything, we've had to trade around to get at least one of us down there every week," Inman says.
Inman adds that Weazel's ongoing journey to be allowed to perform must be at least partly responsible for inspiring the bill. "It must have been brought on because of us. We haven't heard of anybody else Downtown trying to do the whole street performance thing," he says.
But the bill won't address amplified music, say Carian and Councilor Benton.
"They keep talking about mimes and jugglers and having a way to regulate that, but I don't know where they're coming from," Inman adds. "There's nobody Downtown doing that now."