ByWard Market buskers upset with new booking fee

Ottawa busker Joey Albert, who performs as Rockabilly Joe, said the incoming fee means artists like him have to take a huge financial risk for every show they put on.  (Joey Albert – photo credit)

Ottawa busker Joey Albert, who performs as Rockabilly Joe, said the incoming fee means artists like him have to take a huge financial risk for every show they put on. (Joey Albert – photo credit)

Some ByWard Market buskers are frustrated by a new booking fee required for performances in select areas this summer, the latest disagreement between street performers and officials managing Ottawa’s popular tourist area.

In a statement to CBC News, Ottawa Markets – the agency that controls the ByWard and Parkdale markets – said they will be introducing a new $50 booking fee for booking performance spaces in areas where acts such as jugglers and large music groups perform can.

Each payment gives those artists two hours of reserved space at either William Street Plaza or George Street Plaza, said Zachary Dayler, executive director of Ottawa Markets.

Dayler said the new fee is designed to help cover maintenance costs, including cleaning performance areas after shows, while allowing other buskers to stay away from permit fees in 2023.

Ottawa Markets hopes fee changes will attract new artists from other areas “who might see an opportunity to book a marquee location and have security during this time,” he said.



Change is risky and unattractive, buskers say

Affected artists say the inbound booking system and fees make busking in the market unattractive. Some even question whether they will work at all if the policy stays in place.

Joey Albert, who has been performing as a juggler and acrobat known as Rockabilly Joe for 17 years, says the new fee is a “huge premium”. His performance usually lasts between 30 and 45 minutes.

“They’ve bumped us up from $100 for the year to $50 for every two gigs. … We’re going to spend thousands upon thousands on it,” he said.

No matter how successful or well-known buskers are, there’s still no guarantee they can consistently draw crowds big enough to eat the new fee without a hitch, Albert added. Despite his experience, he said there are still times when he can’t reach a crowd.

“The streets keep you humble,” said Albert.

Other artists like Yoshi Chladny, a 10-year juggler and performer, say the addition of a booking system undermines the self-management typical of street performers.

According to Chladny and Albert, street performers conduct random draws in the morning to determine who has priority in choosing their time slot for the day. But they say a booking system that could allow artists to pick the best times in advance could create tension between artists.

When it comes to upkeep of the spaces, Chladny said he understands there are costs to keeping the areas clean, but those funds “shouldn’t come from the performers.”

He said there could be a conversation between buskers and Ottawa Markets about how both groups can keep the spaces in good shape.

Submitted by Joey Albert

Submitted by Joey Albert

Performers feel unheard

Circle show performers — who busk while audience members form a circle around them — have battled with city officials and ByWard Market authorities for more than a decade. In 2011, street performers said they were ready to leave the city after a charter was passed that balanced performance spaces with market vendors’ ability to attract customers.

In 2018, circle show artists claimed Ottawa Markets was rescheduling their weekend shows so Casino du Lac-Leamy could run a shuttle service. That same year, buskers were told they had to get general liability insurance, which became another point of contention.

Chladny said buskers have never been consulted about this latest booking fee – which he describes as “absolutely prohibitive” – ​​and he believes officials are trying to stop circuit shows from happening altogether.

Albert said city authorities don’t consult street musicians and “don’t take us seriously…don’t consider us professionals”.

“I don’t want to create this drama with them,” Albert said. “I want them to talk to us and I want them to respect us.”

Dayler said the fee would be reconsidered if it proved unaffordable for the cast members.


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