Busk or Bust?

An issue deemed long settled by downtown habitués bubbled back to life this weekend after a widely known and well-liked busker had an encounter with the Knoxville Police Department. Bill, the busker, and his dog, Jake, have been downtown fixtures for several years. Bill plays acoustic guitar and sings, and sells self-produced CDs, all activities that the city has generally deemed permissible on public property. By Bill’s account he was doing just that on the sidewalk in front of a vacant storefront next to the Regal Riviera theater on Gay Street Friday night, when a movie theater employee told him to move along. Bill refused, the employee called the police, and two officers responded. When Bill reasserted to them that there was nothing illegal about busking, the officers issued him a citation, albeit a blank one with no offense specified.

Bill’s many downtown allies rallied to his cause, including HGTV producer Art Carmichael (seen in this month’s Knoxville magazine list of the city’s “Top Singles”), who wrote an e-mail to city officials asking them to remind officers that buskers are important to downtown. “I don’t want any rumors of harassment or crackdowns spreading in the busking community as this could cause the busking community, that we’ve worked so hard to foster, to quickly dry up,” Carmichael wrote.

City officials on Tuesday were still sorting out the details of the incident, but Hannah Parker, the city’s downtown coordinator, reaffirmed that “our office views busking as something that is vibrant and that makes for a lively downtown.” (The exceptions are people blocking sidewalks or playing with amplification.)

UPDATE: In an e-mail to Carmichael on Thursday morning, Parker said that a review of the incident showed that the singer/guitarist "was occupying the public sidewalk with a blanket and a dog. The citation was issued because he was in violation of the city's sidewalk access ordinance for the CBID and Downtown North."

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