Benjamin Franklin was a busker. Yep. As a young man, America’s trillest Founding Father was known to bust rhymes and sling political writings on the cobblestone streets of Boston.
“He did poetry and things like that,” balloon artist and magician Billy Williams says, twisting a red balloon into a flower. “Robin Williams was a street performer. So was Rod Stewart. You’ve got a lot of famous people who did it.”
Williams is one of several dozen buskers under the Fremont Street Experience canopy who could be affected by a proposed City of Las Vegas ordinance that aims to curb crowding, nudity, noise, turf wars among buskers and aggressiveness toward visitors.
Proposed August 5, the updated policy could be enacted as early as September 2, and would require street entertainers to register with the city to occupy 6-foot performance zones. The law, likely to be enforced by deputy marshals, would also require entertainers to move to different spots every two hours, meanwhile standing 100 feet from Fremont Street Experience concerts, 40 feet from other buskers and, as established by past measures, 20 feet from building entrances and 10 feet from ATMs and kiosks.
Puppeteer Clifford “Buddy” Big Mountain likes the idea of separating performers but says moving every two hours is prohibitive for those with larger, less-mobile setups.
Williams agrees with registration and buffer zones, but worries that the law, which is modeled after Santa Monica’s street performance ordinance, is underdeveloped. “They’ve done the research on how to do it, but they haven’t done the research on the problems it causes,” he says.
Once first-come, first-served, the Santa Monica Pier switched to a lottery system in 2010 to deter physical confrontations, and now doles out 24 spots for three-hour periods. In 2013, a Santa Monica magician told the Los Angeles Times that while he once performed regularly on weekends, he later felt lucky to secure two morning shifts.
If the Las Vegas ordinance passes as is, allowing performances from 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. on a first-come, first-served basis, Williams worries performers might fight over spots, or camp out to save prime locations. “You might go to work five days but only work one day,” says the performer of five years.
Chartreuse-thonged entertainer Jason Sanders, who makes about $50 or $60 for four hours of work each night, doesn’t see a need for change. “Most tourists tell us 99 percent of the reason they come out here is because of us,” he says, adjusting dollar bills in his waistband. “They have fun taking pics with new characters and old characters.”
He says he’s working on a costume of Link from The Legend of Zelda, and with that, turns to the crowd and smiles for their cameras.