Asheville launches busker pilot program

Hayley Benton

After more than a year of back-and-forth between city officials and buskers, Asheville's new pilot program for regulating street performances is now in effect for the streets of downtown.

Rob Cook, left, and Christopher Edwards busk outside Woolworth Walk in downtown Asheville in September 2014.

In an official city of Asheville brochure, the rules and regulations are outlined in an easy-to-digest format — first with some busking etiquette from the Asheville Buskers Collective (take two hour turns, watch your crowd size, keep your amps turned down) and second, with some rules from the city.

Do not obstruct or cause obstruction to sidewalks, doorways or streets. Provide a minimum of 6 feet of pedestrian passageway. Do not sell or display any tangible good in exchange for money or donation. Performances may only be between the hours of 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. Do not consume or be under the influence of drugs or alcohol while performing. No dangerous objects are to be used in a performance.

Some rules were already in place prior to being printed in the pamphlet, such as the rule stating that acts must be at least 40 feet from one another. But now with a clear set of rules in place for buskers, the regulations are much easier to enforce. One of the newer rules, though, regards high impact areas, like outside of the Woolworth Walk and beside the Flat Iron Sculpture. Only one audible performance may take place on the sidewalk at a single time within 120 feet of another marked location.

New limits set on Asheville street music

These regulations are the result of many meetings between city officials and street performers over the last few years, coming from concerns that people watching performances were spilling off the sidewalks onto streets or causing passers-by to have to walk in the street, increasing the chance of being hit by a car.

There have been discussions of permitting, scheduling and busker boxes outlined on the sidewalk — but the two entities seem to have reached a happy middle ground with the pilot program's set of rules.

Assistant City Manager Paul Fetherston presented a one version of the proposal in June, at a Public Safety Committee meeting before a crowded room full of buskers.

“The reason we’re here is because so many people love Asheville — for so many different reasons,” Fetherston said. “How do we balance that public space for all the different interests?”

Many buskers are happy about the balance laid out in the pilot program. In a December interview, Abby "The Spoon Lady" Roach explained that Asheville has always been a city that's kind to its busking community.

However, Dade Murphy, "The Living Statue," said the 40-foot distance rule prevents him from doing his act, and, now that these rules are officially printed, he's been subject to their enforcement, unlike years before.

In order for his act to work, Murphy must use very specific areas around town — cracks and holes in the sidewalk that can hold him up while he mimes falling or crashing, usually frozen at impossible angles.

But the spot where he's normally posted, at the corner of Wall Street and Battery Park Avenue, is only 23 feet from the Flat Iron Sculpture, an area where buskers line up to play around the clock — meaning that Murphy's silent act must be at least 40 feet away.

"If I’m not allowed to do my spot, I won't be able to make a living," Murphy said. "As a statue act, I can stand right next to a band and not cause any problems. But because of this rule, I'd have to stand at the Iron, where a band would usually play, and take away that space."

The pilot program will be tested for the 2017 season and revisited at a later date, citing any issues or suggestions and looking at the effectiveness of the new policy.

Check out the pamphlet and the full list of rules and etiquette at or find a physical copy at the Pack Square Park Pavilion, at the Asheville Downtown Association’s brochure rack and at City Hall.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that the 40-foot rule was new to the city, when, in fact, it had been in place prior to this year's pilot program. With the city's regulations now clearly outlined in print, both new and old rules are easier to enforce. 

Buskers argue against scheduling, designated performance spaces