Imagine listening to the “Bucket Boys” — not one group, but three of them — for 10 hours a day. Try talking on the phone, watching TV or reading a book while enduring that racket.
That’s the ear-splitting dilemma downtown residents described Wednesday to justify the latest in a series of crackdowns on downtown street musicians.
The ordinance championed by downtown Aldermen Brendan Reilly (42nd) and Brian Hopkins (2nd) and approved by the License Committee would prohibit street performances audible from 20 feet away on several blocks on both Michigan Avenue and State Street.
The Michigan Avenue corridor would stretch from Cedar to Balbo, enlarging a ban that’s been in effect for a decade from Delaware to Superior. The State Street stifle zone would run from Huron to Jackson Boulevard.
“I don’t how you guys would feel if I came to your neighborhood and started banging on buckets and started playing music at all hours of the evening,” Tom Callahan, who lives at 151 N. Michigan Ave., told aldermen before the vote.
Matt Borkowski said he has personally logged 70 complaints over the last year from his home at 20 N. State. That’s because the sheer number of performers and the noise they generate has “increased aggressively.”
“We do have times during the holiday season in good weather — the days that we are off from work, on vacation or sick trying to rest and recover — that we’ll have up to three groups of these bucket drummers performing simultaneously within two blocks for eight-to-10 hours at a time,” Borkowski said.
“I can hear them living a block away, seven stories up, with all of my doors and windows closed. And I can hear them clearly over my television in any room that I am in and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Mary Bresky has lived at 130 N. Garland Court for 12 years and worked downtown for 49 years. She has “never heard the noise” she’s experiencing now.
“You can set your bio-rhythms to accept the Bucket Boys when they start at 9 a.m. But, sometimes by 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. on a Saturday night when it has been non-stop, it can make you crazy. One bucket boy is one thing. Five bucket boys — strong young men — is another thing,” Bresky said.
Citing police advice garnered while attending CAPS meetings, Bresky said: “You never, ever go up and approach the Bucket Boys because . . . some of them are young and aggressive and you just don’t know.”
Over the years, street musicians have showed up in force to denounce previous attempts to stifle them.
On Wednesday, not a single person impacted by the ordinance showed up to testify against the crackdown.
The only “no” vote was cast by South Side Ald. David Moore (17th), who likened living downtown to buying a home near O’Hare or Midway airports. It’s a choice. You like the nose. You buy the face. You put up with the noise.
Moore said there are plenty of laws on the books to regulate excessive noise, but they’re not being enforced. That includes the permit that’s supposed to be required for all street performers.
“This will be a feel-good thing when it passes for you. Yay,” Moore said, clapping his hands in mock applause.
“Then you get out there and you’re back in the same situation. … I’m just being real. If they’re not enforcing [the permit requirement], you think they’re … gonna start enforcing something new? … Let’s not just layer something on.”
License Committee Chairman Emma Mitts (37th) put Reilly and Hopkins on the defensive when she referred to the unrelenting gang violence that, again this week, targeted innocent children.
She accused her colleagues of worrying about “noise from the guys on the streets and we’re hearing bullet shots every day in our neighborhoods. Which one would I rather have?”
Reilly countered: “I don’t mean to trvialize the role of the Police Department or the need for them to address violent crime in communities struggling with it the most.”
But he added: “For the officers dedicated to the beats in the downtown area, we’d like them to prioritize this as a quality of life concern.”
Hopkins said aldermen have to juggle “thousands of issues” ranging from “the relatively minor, routine, mundane to literally life and death where people are dying on the streets of our city.”
He told Mitts, “I respect what you’re saying. Right now, we have a relatively mundane issue before us. That’s what we’re gonna deal with for the next few minutes. Then, we’ll move on to some of the things that really matter.”