Not such an 'art friendly' town

As reported in the Ashland Daily Tidings on Sept. 1, recently Daniel Sperry asked the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission for an exception in its policy of not allowing musicians to sell CDs while they play music in the park. He was turned down. The excuses given were that if they made an exception for one musician, they'd have to make an exception for everybody else, and there would be a stampede of musicians wanting to sell CDs in the park.

As both a citizen and a local musician, my response was, So what? What's the problem? In one case you have a person playing music with a tip jar. (Finally, at least this is permitted.) In the other case you have a person playing music with a tip jar and a CD for sale next to it. What's the problem with that?

Here are some objections and some simple solutions.

Objection: CD displays could get really big.

Solution: OK, make it so you only display one single CD at a time. When that single CD sells, the musician can replace it with another.

Objection: There will be hordes of musicians out there playing.

Solution: Limit the number of musicians who can play at one time in the park, or limit the space between them to a certain number of feet. The park foot patrol cops are already out there enforcing the "no sell" rule, now they could just enforce the "must be 100 feet between musicians" rule.

Objection: Selling CDs would bug the tourists.

Solution: As a musician who has played multiple venues in this town for the last four years, I have to say that tourists are, by and large, way, way more interested in listening to and appreciating our local music than locals are. (I ask you, local reader, when was the last time you listened to a local musician play live for five minutes without talking, reading, checking your phone, texting or something else?) Appreciating our local art is why tourists come here. Having CDs for sale, especially discreetly displayed CDs, would be a plus for the tourists, not a problem.

You would think an "art friendly" town, or even a "business friendly" town, would try and work with a struggling entrepreneur like Mr. Sperry. But instead of coming up with simple solutions like these, which, by the way, were the first thoughts off the top of my head, the general trend in Ashland is to head off anyone being upset for any reason about anything, and to rule against anything that disturbs the status quo, even one hostile to music, musicians and business. That, and charging a prohibitive price for every little thing. The Southern Oregon Songwriters Association (a nonprofit of which I am a member) used to have free concerts in Lithia Park every summer. It cost $50 to use the bandshell, and we couldn't sell CDs, have a raffle or take donations. When the price went up to $150, we approached the "art friendly" town of Central Point, which not only let us use its bandshell free, but let us sell whatever we wanted and have a raffle. I don't need to tell you where our free concerts have been the last two summers.

I have lived in Ashland for 10 years. I still love this town and hope to spend the rest of my life here, but I don't consider Ashland art friendly in any real way, and toward music it seems downright hostile.

Gene Burnett is a tai chi teacher, author and singer-songwriter. He has lived in Ashland for 10 years. Learn more about him at

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