"Nobody really harasses us in front of this store," says Jason Youth.
Youth is a busker and recent transplant to Santa Fe, and we've just met outside the Starbucks located a few steps from the Plaza, where we're headed on a brisk October afternoon when a passerby interrupts us.
"Is that a GS Mini?" the man asks, pointing to the Taylor guitar strapped on the Youth's back.
"It is! It is a GS Mini!" Youth responds excitedly.
The passerby turns to his friend and says "See, that was the exact guitar I was telling you about. I want to get one. How do you feel about it?"
Youth smiles and engages in the small talk before he tells me a story about the time he "was playing in one of our designated spots, and a -gallery owner came up to me to say 'I hate you buskers. I've been in business for 15 years, and you've never done anything for anyone around here, you are all a nuisance. You should leave.'"
The juxtaposition of these moments is notable: one of genuine human connection, one of recounted vitriol. It would be easy to shrug off Youth's older story as a one-time occurrence, but this isn't exactly the first time this has happened to street performers in Santa Fe. As SFR reported way back in 2014, tensions between -Plaza vendors and buskers came to a rather contentious head that resulted in numerous City Council meetings and an ordinance requiring licensure, volume and content restrictions and requirements that buskers change their location -every two hours, among other restrictions. Back then, it was the cart vendors on the Plaza making waves; today, Youth says, brick and mortar businesses have chimed in as well.
"And it's never the tourists that give us shit, it's almost always the locals and the business owners," he continues. "I've had … people tell me that I need to get a -manicure. Just needlessly cruel."
Following Youth's comments, SFR reached out to a number of Plaza businesses. In most cases, employees didn't wish to comment, but Sarah Worden of jewelry shop Charlotte says that while she feels buskers provide value and -entertainment, she wishes some would expand their repertoires.
"Sometimes I have to hear the same song 15 times a day," Worden tells SFR. "If you're going to be in the same place for two hours, learn at least an hour worth of content."
Karen Malouf of Malouf on the -Plaza expresses her support as well, but opines that some of the buskers who use amplifiers prove a little too much. In the summer, she says, "sometimes I can't hear the music in my store over the sound of their music."
It could be easy to abstract this conflict to a difference of taste in music, or where and when music should be played, or how loudly. But for busking to remain a continued hot-button issue for so long, there has to be something in this tension that drives deeper than a proclamation of "I hate buskers."
Santa Fe is known for its vibrant arts culture centered in not only -canvas and sculpture, but also music. The busking ordinance even explicitly states that "street performers enhance the character of the city." Yet, for some -reason, we keep circling back to this turf war between buskers, vendors and locals.
Ultimately, it doesn't matter why the issue keeps coming up—buskers have a legal right to perform on the Plaza. They are regulated and can face fines if they don't adhere to the city ordinance. In addition to the yearly $35 licensing fee, performers can only make use of -amplification between 1 and 3 pm. Further, most buskers will tell you they make very little money and perform simply for the love of it.
But even beyond the unquestionable legality or the limited capital gain, we live in a place that boasts the nickname "The City Different." We are a community of eccentrics, outcasts and weirdos. -Santa Fe hosts a slew of free music events during the summer at the Santa Fe Bandstand series plus any number of one-off events year-round, so why do the buskers draw so much ire? No, really, I'm asking. We have collectively agreed that participation in music and art, either as creators or observers, not only enriches but defines our shared -human experience, right? Right.
So, buskers? Play on. Bougie, rude business owners? Stop fucking harassing street -performers and let them play.
"This is such an art-based city," Youth says. "It claims to be for musicians and artists, yet here in the Plaza it feels like quite the opposite when you're a musician."