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How This Musician Made Seattle Street Performing Legal 40 Years Ago

The Seattle City Council is marking a cultural anniversary Monday: 40 years of legal busking in the city. Seattle musician Jim Pagewas behind the ordinance that legalized street performing back in 1974.

Page said he was playing guitar and singing one day in front of Oliver’s Meats, near Pike Place Market.

“I’m just singing along, and a motorcycle police officer pulled over,” Page said. “And he shouted at me over his motor and said, ‘Do you have a permit?’ I said no. He said, ‘Next time I see you,, I’ll give you a ticket.’”

Page said he offered to get a license, but was told he couldn’t do that, since he was not blind.

Puzzled, Page said he hightailed it to City Hall, where he learned that the cop was right; street performing was illegal in Seattle without a permit, and those were only available to people deemed “blind or disabled.”

'The Right To Live In A Carnival'

As Page saw it, he had a choice: “I could just take it and lump it and leave it,” he said. “Or I could change the law.”

He decided to go with the latter option (“It seemed like a fun project to do,” he added). And he found a willing partner in then-council member Randy Revelle, who agreed to introduce an ordinance to legitimize street musicians.

Page prepared to give his testimony.

“I made up little fliers, little 8½-by-11 fliers that said, ‘Jim Page, live at city council., City Hall, Wednesday at 3:30 or whatever it was, come one, come all, no door charge,’” he said.

Page said he composed an original song for the occasion, called “Now’s the Time For Talking,” and performed it to an overflowing city council chambers.

He said he thought it was crucial then, in the wake of Watergate, to defend busking as free speech and a key ingredient to an open society. And that, he said, has not changed.

“I still maintain that busking and access to the streets is very important for our public mental health, to keep secrets from strangling us, to be able to talk in public,” Page said. “But also, we have the right to live in a carnival, if we so choose.”

The ordinance passed handily.

Seattle Busker Week

On Monday Page plans to reprise that concert in city council chambers. He’ll receive a proclamation from council member Nick Licata honoring the anniversary, and an event at the public library will follow.

Beginning on Sept. 14, Seattle Busker Weekgets underway in earnest, featuring performances at Pike Place Market, the downtown library and Benaroya Hall, as well as pop-up and impromptu gigs all over Seattle.

Page teamed up many times over the decades with Artis the Spoonman and his friend and fellow busker, Jim Hinde. Hinde died in 2008, and Page remembered him with “Jim’s Song,” here performed on a sidewalk bench in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood:

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.