Performers and panhandlers

At the peak of tourist season, downtown Ashland fills with new faces. Most come to spend money, but a few come to earn it.

Street musicians, performers and panhandlers have been part of the Ashland landscape since at least 1916, when Ashland banned fakirs, organ grinders and mendicants (religious beggars) from the city's parks.

The prohibition on park soliciting was repealed June 5. According to Teri DeSilva of the Ashland Police Department, the change made little difference because Lithia Park never attracted many solicitors to begin with.

"We really haven't had a lot of complaints," she said.

DeSilva said panhandling picks up in July and August, when more transients move into town. Regardless of the June changes, she said aggressive panhandling is not and will not be tolerated anywhere in Ashland.

Recreation Superintendent Rachel Teige said panhandling has never been an issue in Lithia Park. As for performances, amplified music is still prohibited without a permit, and drums are allowed only from — to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

"We haven't noticed any difference since the ordinance went into effect," she said.

Meanwhile, street performers and panhandlers in the downtown shopping district continue to try to make a living. Some have more success than others.

A young man who wished to be identified as "Max Power" took a direct approach to making money Tuesday. He spent the hot afternoon downtown asking passersby if they could spare any change for an out-of-work Elvis impersonator.

— p.m., his friendly demeanor and karate poses had earned him a few dollars and a few smiles. He said he once received a police warning after an altercation with a man who was, in Power's Presley-esque words, "bein' clever." Other than that, he has met little resistance from the Ashland Police Department.

"They don't really hassle you too much unless you're causing a problem," he said.

Power offered some simple advice for panhandlers who wish to avoid police interference: don't threaten to stab anybody.

Classical violinists Chris Scherer and Paul Grobey, both 20, put art before earnings when they perform on the plaza during the summer. Their first performance of the year Thursday evening brought in $40 in tips. One day last year, they made $150.

They have had some unusual encounters downtown. According to Scherer, one man offered him the drug ecstasy last season. Another threatened Grobey with a gun for playing a Bach composition that was not suitably cheerful.

Scherer succeeded Grobey as concert master of the Youth Symphony of Southern Oregon in 2006. The duo began performing classical music together on the plaza last summer. Apart from performing a couple of times a week, Scherer works weekends at the Avalon Bar and Grill in Talent.

Alanna Stevens and Amber Lowey, both 18, enjoyed Thursday's impromptu performance. They were sitting on a bench watching tourists react to the taste of the Lithia water from the newly-renovated fountain when the two musicians set up in front of them.

"It makes the plaza more welcoming," Lowey said.

Scherer and Grobey are a far cry from the fakirs and mendicants of the 1900s. Scherer, a student at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, began playing at the age of 7. Grobey, who attends the University of North Texas College of Music, has been playing since he was 11.

"The most special thing about coming down here is we're not in a concert hall," Grobey said. "We're playing for people who maybe don't ever listen to this kind of stuff."

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