Busking 101: A guide to street performing in Asheville, N.C.

Guitarist Adi at the Flat Iron statue | Photo courtesy of City of Asheville

Table of Contents

Asheville’s reputation as a haven for musicians + artists has made it a destination for creative types + arts supporters for years, who come to experience our music venues, the weekly downtown Drum Circle, and local fests like Connect Beyond and LEAF, but we’re also a city where music + performance happen impromptu on our streets. Chances are that you’ve seen buskers – from musical performer to living statues + people who type out poems for you – when you’ve been out and about. Today, we’re breaking down the history + rules around busking in Asheville, plus shining the light on a few of our most recognizable street performers.

What is busking?

Busking is defined as the activity of playing music in the street or another public place for voluntary donations. The City of Asheville recognizes “street performers” – not just musicians – as buskers. Buskers do not intentionally sell anything. The first buskers reportedly came to Asheville in the 1980s. In 2014, Asheville’s busking scene grew to the point where police considered issuing street permits, mainly due to noise and the crowds performers drew. DYK: The drum circle was closed at one point in 2006 due to noise complaints.

Busking rules + guidelines 

On Oct. 25, 2016, the City of Asheville came to an agreement with the Asheville Buskers Collective, which formed to work with the city + educate new buskers about regulations + local etiquette around busking to create the best environment for both buskers and businesses. Due to the large crowds busking draws, busking had become a potential safety hazard + a concern for local businesses.

As part of the agreement, the city decided that the two most popular spots for busking, the Flat Iron sculpture on Wall Street at Battery Park Avenue + the Haywood Street sidewalk in front of Woolworth Walk, would be limited for buskers, and only one performer can perform within 120 feet of these spots at a time. The Asheville Buskers Collective collaborated with the City on a pamphlet that serves a guide for busking. It also contains information about the city’s street performer and noise ordinances.

According to the guidelines, buskers should –

  • Perform in one spot for a maximum of two hours. After that, it is courteous to move to another area.
  • Be aware of what kind of noise they’re making. City ordinances break down noise into four categories: loudness, time of day, repetitiveness + proximity.
  • Talk to the businesses they perform in front of, so that they can communicate and work together as far as controlling the noise.
  • Be mindful of crowds. Buskers must leave six feet of sidewalk space for pedestrians.
  • Leave their spot cleaner than when they found it.
  • Keep amps turned down.

Meet Asheville’s Buskers

Chances are you’ve seen a few of these folks performing on the streets.

Want to take your talent to the streets? If you’re curious about becoming a busker, visit avlbuskers.com. And, if you stop to listen or shoot a pic of a busker, it’s courteous to leave a donation or purchase an item they have for sale.