We'd call them the unsung heroes of St. Louis if so many of them didn't, in fact, sing. They are the city's street musicians, and this month they scored perhaps their biggest victory in an already momentous year when the St. Louis Board of Aldermen quietly passed Board Bill No. 181.
The legislation repealed a controversial law passed last year that quadrupled the licensing fee for buskers, increasing it from $25 to $100. But Board Bill No. 181 didn't end there. It also repealed the city's original street-performer law requiring musicians to pay an annual fee and restricting where in the city they can play. As of this month buskers are free to perform anywhere they please without contributing a dime from their tip jar to government red tape.
"I'm ecstatic," says 71-year-old Fred Walker, a musician who sued St. Louis earlier this year over the fee hike. "I'm so happy, I'd be doing flips if I could."
Walker's lawsuit, filed in conjunction with fellow street performer Nick Pence and backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, led a federal judge in May to issue an injunction prohibiting the city from enforcing the increased fee. Yet it was unclear how the city would choose to respond until the board of aldermen reconvened this fall.
Alderwoman Phyllis Young tells Riverfront Times that she's not meddling with buskers again any time soon. Yes, it was her bill last year that hiked the fees for buskers. But it was also her legislation this session that wiped all street performer regulations from the books.
"I'm also the person who wrote the initial bill in the 1990s that allowed for street performers," explains the Seventh Ward alderwoman. "Before then the city prohibited them."
Young says concerns about noise and the location of certain street performers prompted last year's ill-fated bill, which she'd rather forget about.
"It's not a pressing concern for me now. Someone else can take it up if they want."
So here's to you, St. Louis buskers. You've fought the man (OK, woman) and won. You're a people to be celebrated. A people to be memorialized. No! A people to be memorabilia-ized! And collected! And traded!
Say, someone oughta make a bunch of baseball cards dedicated to buskers. You know, with a photo of the musician on front and his stats on the back? Wouldn't that be cool? Wouldn't it?