Some SF street performers face challenges

May 4, 2009 7:31:26 PM PDT
If you visit San Francisco's Union Square, Fisherman's Wharf or other popular tourist spots you'll see colorful street performers. But now, just as tourist season is getting underway, some of those who rely on the crowds are worrying they may lose their livelihood.

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Larry Hunt, aka the Bucket Man, has been banging his plastic drums in the Union Square area for the past 11 years.

"This is how I got off the street. I was homeless and I got off the streets just doing this," said Hunt.

He's parlayed his popularity into a cameo in a Will Smith movie, and he's drummed with Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Now the Bucket Man says just as the lucrative tourist season is kicking off, the Union Square business district and the police are cracking down.

"They came to me Friday and said you can't play for three months, excuse me?" said Hunt.

The city and business district deny there's a crackdown, but the head of the Entertainment Commission says it is a delicate balancing act.

"There is a First Amendment right to free speech but it comes with caveats and they are primarily focused around public safety and sound," said Bob Davis from the San Francisco Entertainment Commission.

In other words, large crowds blocking the sidewalks and noise both sort of come with the territory.

Fisherman's Wharf is the only place in San Francisco with rules and regulations governing when and where street performers can entertain.

"They are awesome, it's our first time here. They are awesome," said tourist Debra Jackson.

The Wharf program was designed in 2007 by the businesses there and the Port of San Francisco.

Musician Kevin K says it provides organization and credibility.

"Because I can tell people I'm a member of the Port of San Francisco Street Performer Group," said Kevin.

Now Union Square merchants are exploring the idea.

"They really should consult with the street artists, include us guys," said street performer Edward Jackson.

Whatever plan may develop, Bucket Man says he's not going anywhere.

"If I stop playing I'll die," said Hunt.

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