Charleston street musician sounds off on city ordinance with silence

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - No music today.

That's the sign Spoleto festival-goers were greeted with while walking along parts of Church Street outside Charleston's Dock Street Theater.

College of Charleston student and cellist Austin Fitzhenry sat in his normal spot outside the performing arts venue, cello in tow, only this time the instrument was chained around his neck in protest.

The Lowcountry street musician of ten years asked passers-by to sign a petition to Charleston Mayor Joe Riley to "allow music again."

On Friday, while playing outside the Dock Street Theater, Fitzhenry was approached by a city police officer asking him to either move 50 feet away or face a citation totaling over $1000.

The request was part of a city ordinance which prohibits street musicians, or buskers as referred to in the ordinance, from being within 50 feet of an entrance or exit of a performance venue.

Fitzhenry avoided Friday's citation by relocating the required feet, but has since re-claimed his spot outside the popular theater, only this time, using the sound of pen to paper as motivation.

"It's sort of ironic because the city has said that tourism has become so successful that people like me are in the way of tourists now," he said."Tourists are here because of people like me. People love to hear music as they walk down the street."

Tuesday afternoon, Fitzhenry had a captive audience of Spoleto goers, many of whom signed the petition after their requests for music fell silent.

"We're wasting time on things like this, when it's really just beautiful music we're enjoying," said Janet Masonberg, a volunteer usher inside the Dock Street Theater of over ten years.

Masonberg was joined by a host of volunteers, all willing to sign in support.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley met with Fitzhenry Tuesday evening during his normal office hours.

Riley said the ordinance was designed to ease the flow of foot traffic along the sidewalk, also creating space between street performers and people entering and exiting these venues.

The mayor said he is considering proposed amendments to the ordinance, which will require additional review from the city's legal team.

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