Nashville street performers speak out against enforcement of Metro ordinance

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Freedom of speech, or a safety hazard? Street performers in Nashville are speaking out, against what they call unfair Metro ordinances.

Metro officials say the ordinances are in place for safety, but some street performers believe they’re simply being pushed off lower Broadway.

Hillary Klug first caught the music bug as a teen in Lynchburg.

“My mom took me to fiddle lessons growing up,” she explained. “I kind of developed a knack for buck dancing.”

She brought that buck dancing to Broadway one afternoon in 2016, hoping to pay for parking.

“I mean everybody just stopped and watched, big crowds gathered, throwing in money, they loved it,” Klug said.

The shows continued unimpeded for months, until last August, when Hillary says Metro Police stepped in.

She would be cited for violating a decades old street performing ordinance, hoping to better clear walkways.

What followed for Hillary was a slew of citations, four to date, costing more than $400. She was most recently cited last weekend.

Hillary has had contact with metro officials, and had communicated with former Mayor Megan Barry while she was in office.

Barry’s office sent the following statement to News 2, days before her resignation.

Metro Nashville has undertaken a number of steps to improve mobility in the lower-Broadway area to ensure pedestrian safety and access with the growth of tourism in the area. There are no new ordinances involved; Metro is simply enforcing existing rules which have been on the books for a number of years. That enforcement includes asking businesses to remove sandwich boards which act as obstructions to the public right-of-way, as well as some musicians who have been unlawfully setting up amplified or obstructive music equipment. Musicians, such as acoustic guitar or violin players, should not be impacted if they are not obstructing foot traffic or violating the noise ordinance due to excessive volume or amplification of sound.

While we regret if any musicians are negatively impacted by the proper enforcement of existing laws and codes, public safety is our first and overriding concern in Metro Government. We hope that those musicians who are asked to move from the area are able to find work in some of the many live-music establishments in the downtown neighborhood or beyond.

The Mayor’s Office worked with Ms. Klug to try and find a solution for her issues with being cited for obstructions and/or use of amplification. Solutions included find alternative permitted locations outside of the footprint of Lower Broadway, which experiences high volumes of pedestrian congestion, and working with private entities to allow her to use space outside of the public right-of-way to perform.

The office of current Mayor David Briley declined comment, asking that we instead speak with Metro Police on the matter.

Officials with Metro Police told News 2 officers are simply enforcing laws already on the books. Police say it’s a safety issue, and that they actually met with several performers many months ago, hoping to explain the situation.

For Hillary though, it’s about freedom of speech, and the street performer’s dream.

She and others hope to join the ranks of BB King, Ed Sheeran, Old Crow Medicine Show, and other buskers that broke through.

“I believe there are civil rights issues. I believe that music is protected by the first amendment. It is a form of communication, a form of speech, and it’s protected,” Klug added. “When you start shutting down street performers, you’re violating that first amendment right to free speech.”

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