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Triona 12-16-00 01:31 AM

Busking in Boston
Hi All!

I was wondering what legalities are involved in busking in Boston?

Jim, I guess you'd be a good one to ask

Also, where are the pitches at (pondering if I'll get an answer to this one).

My partner and I might be up there this summer and I'd like to try it if possible.



Jim 12-16-00 05:04 PM

OK, Here goes...

Two main busking friendly areas, several smaller pitches that have been worked but aren't really official pitches.

1. Quincy Market (Faneuil Hall), Boston
The mother pitch. The most organized and highly regarded area for busking in Boston. There are two circle-show sized pitches and about four other smaller pitches for musical acts, small magic shows or ballooning. You're performing on private property. All spots are scheduled. And to perform there, you need to pass an audition and play by the rules.

Auditions are held every April, in public, in front of a normal crowd right on the pitch. You're judged by other acts, local merchants and the Faneuil Hall marketing staff. After auditions, you either get a call or you don't. There are usually only one or two new acts accepted each year. Over 50 audition.

If you're accepted into the program, you will receive a monthly schedule with your spots. Each 'spot' is a 2 hour time slot on a specific pitch. You may be scheduled the first Saturday of the month from 5-7PM on Spot 1, then the second Tuesday from 1-3PM on spot 3, etc. It's completely random. Most people get about one 2-hr spot per week. (More are available on a call in, first come first serve basis.) Your spot is your spot. If it rains for your spot, you lose. It's possible to trade spots with other acts, however each spot has a value to each particular performer (Monday afternoons aren't as valuable as Saturday afternoons.) so you have to deal with that.

Rules: NO FIRE (strongly enforced). No knives (not totally enforced). No offensive material/profanity. Not too loud. Amped bands only work after business hours.

Shows are generally good. Crowds are international/family oriented/touristy.

Overall, if you get in and play by the rules, you do very well. Don't expect to walk in and get a spot every day of the week. Especially in your first year or two. There are many seasoned pros here who have been working 15+ years.

2. Harvard Square, Cambridge
Across the river and into Cambridge, steps away from Haavahd Yahd is a little intersection called Harvard Square, though not square and not affiliated with Harvard University.

This is open performing for anyone with a permit. Walk into the Cambridge Arts Council (M-F 9-5 closed for lunch from 12-2) with $40 (cash only) and ask to buy a permit. Fill out a short form and you're handed the Street Performing Ordinance and your new flourescent colored busking license.

The License allows you to perform in any public space in the city of Cambridge between the hours of 7AM and 11PM (12Mid on Fri and Sat nights.) However, everyone rushes right to Harvard Square.

All spots are first come, first serve, but most people share or rotate all day and all night long on each spot.

During the days, most of the acts are musical, playing to lunch crowds. Starting at dusk, the variety acts come out. There's one large Juggling/Variety pitch capable of crowds up to 250-300 people. Also, about three large 'prime' music/band pitches and over a dozen close-up magic/balloon/statue/solo guitar/doorway pitches. People find new spots to work every year.

For the Variety spot, acts show up mid-day and claim the spot. The usual rule is "First three to the spot get to rotate for the evening." However, that is only enforced (or not) by the FIRST person on the pitch that day. One guy will only share with two people, others share with three, and others feel anyone who shows up get to work. There are no rules, it's all self policed.

For the smaller pitches, as I said, most musical acts trade off hour sets, magicians will rotate close-up shows, balloonies will grab any open spot and start twisting.

Smaller acts work off the variety pitche's crowd breaks (usually every 40-45 minutes.)

Harvard Square is a LOUD environment. LOUD, LOUD, LOUD. Uncomfortably loud. (For me, at least.) City rules are NO FIRE (enforced) and no performing after curfew (11PM, MIDnight Fri, Sat.) Amps are OK and pretty much necessary. There are supposedly city monitors walking around checking permits and sound levels and giving tickets to offenders, but I rarely see them. It's pretty much anarchy most weekend nights. There is a lot of bickering between the variety acts and the gas-generator amplified bands.

Crowds are college/high school age on weekends and nights. Business people/tourists at lunch time. Lots of pierced people. Lots of spikey hair. Audiences are a bit more fun/wild/young/interesting at Harvard than at Faneuil Hall. But Faneuil Hall is a more controlled environment, so it's overall more pleasant to work there (if you like that sort of environment.)

There are more (unofficial/sometimes enforced, sometimes not) pitches around Boston... The Common, Newbury Street, Marketplace Center. And I didn't even touch on the extensive Subway scene...(Music only) but my hands are getting tired of typing. I'm sure the other Boston guys will add more....


theballoonman 06-19-01 08:08 PM

after i finish crashing the denver buskerfest...i was thinking of san fran or i found out my ex is currently in san fran....
can anyone recommend good accom. for boston?
i'll be there from the 26ish until the 9th-ish...a private room is preferable to a dorm... but i enjoy hostel comraderie.something in the 150-300$/wk variety(the best of the worst)
also,i do a whacky balloon show(walk by)thats unlike ANYTHING youve ever seen...where can i
best capitalise on the american day of independance??(its the american way)
thanks for all your help...and i look forward to meeting(or remeeting)all you performers out there...
dont use the force,
force yourself.

mnozzolio 06-21-01 05:23 AM

Concerning Boston -- I'm familiar with the permit requirements for the T and for Cambridge streets. Is anyone know what restrictions, if any, apply to Boston Common and other parks?

Matt Nozzolio

mnozzolio 06-21-01 05:43 AM

I apologize for my question about Boston. I see that Jim had already covered much of the territory.

If you're traveling between Boston and NY, you may want to stop in Hartford. Street performers are officially encouraged. No permit is needed to perform on outdoor public areas -- sidewalks or public parks -- just be sure you don't block pedestrian traffic. The new Riverfront Plaza has an ampitheater-like seating along the River. There's a fair amount of pedestrian traffic during lunch hour; much more during special events. The city's Department of Human Services can offer advice on where to set up, other events, etc. Number is 860-543-8874.

scot 06-22-01 10:29 PM

Concerning accomadations:
Hostels will run you around twenty three a night for dorm stays. They are not that great and at first may seem a little scary. When or before you get there check the phone book. I perfered the HI hostel at BU. I think is a place to find that kind of info. Anyway the BU place seemed most secure and pretty clean.

The actual circle show pitch for Harvard Sq is in Brattle square. It's on the corner of Brattle street and some other street by "Words Worth Books". If you want more info on the performers there or you want a contact that is at the place, check . I saw some fire going on there but we were careful. It wasn't allowed.

I performed in the common a few times and it was nice but the times I did it were hot and I am not so family oriented. I would get crowds together but the children didn't understand my non-pie-in-the-face type of humor. They won't want you doing fire or knives. That was the only problem I had with the mounties. They didn't like knives. I didn't have a license.

The license thing wasn't really enforced anywhere for me except in front of city hall near Fanieul Hall. It turns out there isn't a license that they would be happy with there but they would shut me down when I couldn't show them one. I was getting a really nice size crowd there and it was great until the middle of my show when the cops came. I didn't pitch it but the people gave me money. I loved that crowd but, I guess I didn't deserve it.

Sorry about the whining.

Quincy market I pirated a few times and was pretty nice to me. I was very careful not to step on anyone's toes. I found out the schedule and figured out when someone wasn't going to show up. I don't feel like I was taking away from the environment. Especially 'cause my hatlines were so bad.

Cambridge has the general performers licence and Boston has a musicians license.


scot nery</A>


scot 06-22-01 10:30 PM



scot nery</A>


The Pretty Good 06-30-01 12:07 PM

last year on the 4th of July a couple of us street performers hit where everyone was waiting to watch the fireworks by the hatch shell along the river. It was fun and packed with people. The cops were ok too. I think that they may have made us stop doing fire but they didnt stop us from doing shows.

scot 07-17-01 06:31 PM

I'm coming to Boston in about a week for about a week. Check my website to get my contact info. I'll see some people soon.


scot nery</A>


Frisbee 07-20-01 04:47 PM


Me too...perhaps we will cross paths. I come in 7/31-08/10


BFlat 08-22-01 11:43 PM

I'll be in Springfield MA next month... Is that close to Boston? (Not familiar with that area) Anyway, I'll ave some time on my hands to be a tourist for a change. Anyone know about this area? Is there any good things to see? And how about the music scene over there?


Danny Hustle 08-24-01 08:31 AM


Sprinfield is about 2 hours from Boston. I dated a girl who went to Springfield College for a couple of years and for the most part, in my opinion, Springfield is a toilet. I'd steer clear.

North Hampton is just a short drive down the highway and there are some great places to eat and drink. It is a college town, with lots of kids out to have a good time.

Fitzwilly's was a great local place to eat, drink, meet people, and have a good time. There was a guy who did magic behind the bar there who was very good. If memory serves his last name was Macmahon.

The Iron Horse is the local spot for music. I remember seeing John Wesley Harding there.

I never did any busking and didn't see anyone else working. This dosen't mean much, lots of people are there it might be a great un tapped spot.




<font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica" size="2">Originally posted by BFlat:
I'll be in Springfield MA next month... Is that close to Boston? (Not familiar with that area) Anyway, I'll ave some time on my hands to be a tourist for a change. Anyone know about this area? Is there any good things to see? And how about the music scene over there?


BFlat 08-24-01 09:08 AM

Thanks for the imput Danny.

scot 08-25-01 05:28 AM

Northampton is almost like a whole 'nuther city.

They have buskers there mostly musicians. You need to be licenced by the city government (licensing department I think). I tryed to get licensed as a juggler but, they said they had juggling injuries earlier and were not into allowing more jugglers.

It's a nice town though. I stayed in easthampton with my sister who schooled in Northampton. There are a lot of chicks around but not too good of a place for picking them up in my experience.


scot nery</A>


Greedybogle 06-18-03 10:55 PM

Northampton is one of the best small-arts communities in the States. I love it. It's about a 45 minute drive from where I live, and I'm there all the time.

Info is correct - buskers need liscences, and they are almost entirely musical. There's great opportunity there for a variety show, and I plan to look into it myself.

Pinochio's Pizzeria is one of the best in the region, the Calvin theater hosts some fantastic acts (Lyle Lovett, Conor Oberst, others you all might like better), but all music. If you're in the area, check out the Academy of Music and Pleasant St. theaters as well.

[ 06-18-2003: Message edited by: Greedybogle ]</p>

Juggalicious 09-29-03 03:48 PM

HARVARD SQUARE PEOPLE: Am I just not seeing the variety/magic/juggling acts? where are you guys? I've been three or four times... but it's usually in passing by to go to my friends apartment. I usually look right in front of Au Bon Pain .

Help please.


[ 09-30-2003: Message edited by: Juggalicious ]</p>

gazzo osborne 10-01-03 11:25 PM

Faneuil hall,in boston is the best busking pitch in the world

harmonicakev 11-15-04 02:28 AM

Hey Gazzo, I guess you are claiming that Faneuil Hall Marketplace is the best pitch financially. For us musical types, acoustics are better in the subway, and the crowds at Harvard Square tend to be more fun but noticeably poorer. According to Etiennes posts after the recent election crowds are "smaller, more stingy with their money, and afraid to laugh." I'm not sure if this was referring to Faneuil Hall or Harvard Sq. Harvard Sq. does not seem to be quite as lively on a weekend night as it used to be. From my point of view, the square has become progressively less special a destination; more national chains, less local one-of-a-kind places. Wordsworth R. I.P.
I would be curious to know if other Boston performers agree with Etienne's statement about this year's crowds? I don't have a lot of direct personal knowledge anymore, as I only busk about 30 times a year these days. My party/festival gigs have been steadily getting better since the down year that followed 9/11/01.
Oh yeah, this thread was originally about legalities.
If you are un-amplified, and not blocking the sidewalk, then the Boston Common is ok. Subways (Music Only, no trumpets) require a permit; I'm not sure, but I think they do a criminal records check. has a bunch of info on Boston and other places where people busk.
the City of Cambridge has a web site with the Cambridge ordinance.

pablo 11-16-04 10:23 AM

Harvard Square
I have 2 questions about Harvard Square:

Is it a seasonal venue, or year-round?

Are there any quick-sketch, portrait or caricature artists? Are they busy?

I'm looking for a reliable venue for my slow months - December & January & maybe a few weeks in the spring.


harmonicakev 11-22-04 01:17 AM

if you can perform when it's freezing out, you're all set.

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