Sonoma or Busk

The busk stops here.

Stroll the streets of Sonoma and one can hear many sounds – the hustle and bustle of traffic, café chatter and caterwauling kids in the Plaza. But no tunes. Not a single note of live, outdoor music to warm one’s wintry ears.

Besides the occasional appearance of Arias Beardsely and his infernal fiddle, which haunt the vaulted hall of the Sebastiani Theatre, Sonoma hasn’t much of a street music scene. Is it illegal? Perhaps – most city legislatures are savvy enough to build a Blue Meanie-sized trapdoor into their noise ordinances to shoo away the strumming and bumming types should they prove a nuisance.

This occurs, I presume, when the “musician” in question is merely rattling a fistful of change in a paper cup and calling it a maraca. Is this any worse than the din produced by those poor souls with the bells and buckets outside the grocery store? Not nearly but neither are producing music. What I’m concerned about is our apparent lack of classically-trained instrumentalists and self-taught virtuosos who provide civic soundtracks in seemingly every city but ours.

Is it the cold weather or the often chillier reception such musicians receive? “Busking” as it’s called in every English-speaking country but ours, refers to all manner of public performance, including music, miming, sword swallowing and any other display of talent that might get money being thrown at you. There’s even an app for that – specifically, “Seline HD” for the iPad, which transforms the tablet device into a ready-made busking machine. And people do busk with it. And people give them money. Why isn’t WiredSonoma on top of this? We should have an iPad orchestra playing carols in the Plaza by now.

To remedy the situation, perhaps Sonoma should host a street music festival (paging J.M. Berry!); a loose, no-frills affair sans band-battles, recondite registration rituals and (gasp!) money. This is a forum for those who wish to hear or be heard. Should a musician’s hat brim with currency at the end of a set is a perquisite not a prerequisite.

Or, if there is an overwhelming desire to produce paperwork, I suggest Sonoma look east to New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which annually auditions musicians for its “Music Under New York” program subway troubadours. Given Sonoma’s glaring lack of public transportation (there are more tour busses than public busses – can’t we work a deal? Or would that just result in drunk commuters? I bet they’d sing.), we may have to substitute wine caves for subways. The acoustics might be similar but if the buskers are anything like the musicians with whom I’ve played, playing for tips will turn to “playing for tipsy” before you can hide the wine thief.

Of course, there should some tacit rules for Sonoma’s street musicians. For example, if you’re a soloist, stay solo. There’s nothing worse than divvying up tips after your “pitch” gets overrun with fellow noodlers. It’s like doing the bill after an evening at Maya’s, invariably, someone doesn’t fess up to the extra margaritas, then expect you to pay for Vern’s Taxi as well.

Percussionists – yes. Drum circles – no. Why? Drum circles are like malignant music tumors. Once they metastasize to, say, three-bearded guys reeking of weed and b.o., they continue to spread until entire public spaces get filled, at which point radical treatment is necessary. This usually comes in the form of cops, who bring their own drumsticks. And beat goes on.

Also, it should be posted somewhere that street musicians are not human jukeboxes. Constraint should be used when making “requests.” Otherwise, you’re simply reminding them about all the vastly more successful musicians whose music you prefer. Also, don’t smoke around horn players. In the abstract, they’re inhaling air to produce music by exhaling it through a pipe, which is far easier a notion to grasp than willfully polluting oneself and the surrounding airspace with the agents of cancer. If you want to die sooner, consider ashing in the bell of a horn player’s brass. It’ll come right quick, mate.

Musicians: Consider creating means of receiving tips other than cash. Who carries cash these days anyway? In this age when one can “text” donations to any cause du jour, might street musicians consider doing the same? There are plenty of turnkey solutions in this arena whereby someone can texts a code with their mobile phone and the charge appears on the phone bill while you pocket the cash. Receive payments via PayPal, all you need is an e-mail address, a bank account and a song in your heart. And possibly and iPad.

About Daedalus Howell

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  1. I recently applied and received a busking licence for Santa rosa. It was free and easy. I propose sonoma do the same.

    As far as why there aren’t more, higher quality musicians playing, well, gas and time are expensive. I would go out and Busk sonoma every day but gas costs too much. It’s also pretty cold out there. Pretty much any instrument goes out of tune in the cold.

    A note on requests, please make them, but make them while you drop some money in the tip jar, otherwise it’s hard to hear you.

    I remember an article about a world class violin player busking in the subway, and the results of how the public ignored him and what not were interesting.

    That being said, I’m looking forward to bringing fine, instrumental music to Santa rosa in the coming weeks, cold or not.

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