By Seth Daniel
If a local restaurateur were wanting to have an acoustic live music show, in the past that would mean taking a trip to City Hall and sifting through red tape, yellow tape and Scotch tape to get a permit for a two-hour set with a musician or poet.
It was hardly worth the effort, and therefore Boston often became known for a City without the courtesy of live music in its restaurants and establishments.
Now, with little fanfare, such restrictions have come to an end with the codification of the Acoustic on Main program that was signed into law by Mayor Martin Walsh in December, and is still working through an official pilot program.
On Tuesday morning, Council President Michelle Wu and ISD Director Buddy Christopher met with several musicians and restaurant owners in the South End, where the call for this change started, to talk about the citywide program and what it will mean for business districts like in Charlestown.
Wu said the only restrictions are that there can be no more than five members performing and that the only microphone used would be for the singer. Beyond that, there can be no amplified instruments, but there can be drums and acoustic guitars and other instruments. If a restaurant has a patio or sidewalk seating, they cannot have performers outside, but they can open windows to let the music flow out onto the outdoor seating.
She said the program is available for any business, not just restaurants, that are located in a traditional business district – such as Main Street and, perhaps, Bunker Hill Street in Charlestown. The hours of operation are between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m.
The beauty of it, for many in the business community, is that those are the only rules.
There are no permits needed and no inspectors have to come visit.
“The neighborhoods are the vibrancy of the city and we want to support you,” said Christopher at the meeting. “We want you to chart your destiny and not us…This is just still in our initial pilot phase even though it’s an ordinance. However, this will be on you as business owners to shepherd it through in it’s first year. It is still a pilot program in its first year citywide. After the pilot, we’ll evaluate it and we’ll turn it into zoning.
“Also, this if for any business in a business district,” he continued. “If you have a hardware store and want to bring in a quartet to entertain people while they buy paint, have at it.”
He and Wu also emphasized that the program isn’t limited to music, but also applies to poets, comedians and spoken word artists – among many others.
“The Mayor wants this to be a success,” Christopher said. “It’s a philosophical position he’s taken. I’m sure these regulations, such as for permits to have music, were well thought out and important at one time. They no longer apply now.”
Christopher stressed that there won’t be inspectors coming out searching for permits or trying to catch storeowners or restaurateurs doing something wrong. He said it is a deliberately hands-off approach that relies upon business owners to police themselves and do things responsibly. If they don’t, he said they’ll likely get complaints and then they would get a visit from ISD.
“I don’t want a big heavy metal band with amplified instruments coming in and destroying the neighborhood,” he said. “The regulation says one mic for the singer. Do it responsibly. If we get complaints, we’re going to come visit you. You know your clientele.”
Said Wu, “We don’t want to dictate to you. We want you to do this. It’s great for the businesses and also the artists. It will give so many musicians and artists and comedians and poets so may more opportunities to showcase their talents…We do want where possible to please pay the musicians and pay them a living wage and support the economy in that way.”
Both stressed that anyone can have the acoustic performances starting now, no permits necessary.
City officials said they are working with the Musicians’ Union to compile a database of entertainers, with genre, who are interested and available for hire. That would be a resource for businesses to use if they are interested in bringing in a performer.