Busker Owen Burgess plays an afternoon set outside the Royal Bank on Shoppers Row. The city is drafting a bylaw to enforce rules for entertainers such as Burgess.

Busking is the city’s latest target for regulation

Solitary street musician okay with fee but questions the need

Owen Burgess and his guitar have been a fixture in front of the Royal Bank for years.

He hasn’t had to follow any rules and performs free of cost. But soon that could all change.

The city is developing a bylaw regulating buskers – street entertainers who perform in public areas. Under the bylaw, buskers may be required to purchase a licence from City Hall, possibly for up to $20 annually.

Burgess, who strums and sings folk tunes to people passing by on Shoppers Row, says he’s okay with paying a licence fee and would welcome some restrictions.

“It wouldn’t bother me to pay a fee, although I don’t see why they should (charge a fee),” says Burgess. “But if they’re gonna regulate it, it would keep the riff raff out.”

He said it would also deter those with no real talent, who are only out for the money, from setting up shop downtown.

“You gotta be professional, you can’t just be out here making noise and jumping around,” says Burgess who has been performing on Campbell River streets for 16 years. Before that, he was a busker in Ontario.

For Burgess he says it’s not about the money, he does it “to keep society entertained.”

But around Campbell River, his type seems to be a dying breed.

“Most people like it, most really enjoy it, but there aren’t many buskers around anymore, just me,” says Burgess who has seen several singers come and go.

The city is hoping that with the success of Spirit Square, more street entertainers will come out of the woodwork. If that happens, the city feels there needs to be some sort of regulation.

A survey of downtown businesses conducted by the city in 2007 showed support for regulation. Of 117 respondents, 80 said they would like to see the city establish a busker policy. Most businesses also indicated they supported busking.

Under the new bylaw, restrictions for buskers may include no drums, other than hand drums, and no performing directly in front of a business’ signage and entrance. Buskers would also have to ensure an unobstructed pedestrian flow on sidewalks.

Additionally, buskers may only perform for a maximum of two hours in one location and no more than two performers may be allowed in any one block.

That would please Burgess.

“The odd guy tries to muscle in on my turf,” Burgess says then smiles. “But they don’t usually last.”