Guitarist Steven Schlaff and saxophonist Jeffrey Newton attended the Royal Oak Commission for the Arts (ROCFA) meeting Wednesday at City Hall to make their case for battery-powered amplifiers and public address systems. Both men are Royal Oak residents.
Schlaff, who has been playing guitar for nearly five years in downtown Royal Oak, was recently charged with disorderly conduct for running music from his phone through an amp during his street performance.
"Police came by on a Saturday and said 'Well we're cracking down on amps. You cannot use amps anymore," Schlaff said. "They said this is your only warning tonight."
Schlaff told members of ROCFA that the warning was unclear to him and he returned three days later with his amp and received a misdemeanor ticket punishable by a fine of up to $500 and/or up to 90 days in jail.
"I guess I took it the wrong way," he said. "I thought they meant they didn't want me to play at night, like after 10 o'clock. I am going to fight the ticket."
Schlaff added the police were professional.
"They said 'It isn't you personally, we're just cracking down on amps,'" he said. "I just turned 50. I'm getting old. I'm thinking I want to play every day. Maybe I was playing too much."
'People love us'Musicians, jugglers, magicians, actors, dancers and other artists that conduct street performances in the city add value, according to Newton, who said he avoided a ticket.
"The vast majority of people love us and tip us," said Newton. "We're out there from 6:15 p.m. to 2:40 a.m."
Buskers can earn up to $150-$300 a night, Newtown said.
"We add something artistic to a city, which doesn't even have a bar that plays live music anymore."
Newton estimates there are approximately a dozen buskers trying to cut over ambient street and traffic noise on a weekend night in downtown Royal Oak.
"We love that you are out there making music but we don't want you to break the law or get into trouble," said ROCFA member Jason Gittinger, who owns The Detroit School of Rock and Pop Music.
Gittinger said there was not much ROCFA could do about the disorderly conduct charge but told the men the group could look at the issue and possibly make recommendations to the Royal Oak City Commission that would encourage street performances.
"I know it's a challenge to play without amplification," said Gittinger, who is also a drummer.
Police Chief: 'It's all a balancing act'"The police are not cracking down on street performers. We don't allow amplified sound for several reasons," said Royal Oak Police Chief Corrigan O'Donohue.
"I know street performances are a cool and interesting part of downtown and there is not a problem if they are not a problem."
If street performers are disruptive or creating a potential danger, such as blocking sidewalks, they are advised. There have also been complaints from residents who live downtown, O'Donohue said, and those complaints should not be dismissed. He added that Schlaff was warned.
A clear line needs to be drawn and amplifiers, which have never been authorized by the city, will not be allowed, O'Donohue said. The chief wants street performers to work with police and be reasonable.
"I think our downtown officers do a good job," he said. "It's all a balancing act."
As one street performer put it, one person's music is another person's noise.