Busking is Legal in Downtown Denver

Know your rights as a street musician

By Benjy Schirm, J.D. | Last updated on May 27, 2022

On the streets of downtown Denver, as theater and concertgoers stream out of their evening’s entertainment; they exit into an increasingly contentious outdoor busking market.

Busking, the act of playing music for money on street corners, isn’t itself a crime. But when business owners and residents begin getting complaints from their customers, public safety concerns or their operations are disrupted by these buskers, they do what business owners tend to do: They fight back.

In 2016, the Downtown Denver Business Improvement District—a consortium of more than 400 commercial property owners that’s overseen by the Downtown Denver Partnership—began to fight back against the street musicians. The BID posted on its website that no musician can perform without a permit, and that they must keep the decibel level below 70 after 10 p.m. They also imposed a one-hour rule, meant to force musicians to move to new spots after performing at a single location for an hour.

These restrictions have little effect on the buskers, as they are rules from a private company attempting to restrict public spaces—rather than laws passed that are enforceable by the police. However, the police are called often for noise complaints and violations of these rules. Eventually, the musicians move under threat of a citation for disobeying an officer. But this practice has dwindled as the groups have entered into agreements with business owners and the police.

The Denver Performing Arts Complex (DCPA) has additionally joined in on the hushing of the buskers by posting signs, which posit that they do not endorse or support sidewalk busking or performing. Their main complaint is that some of these street performances can be heard inside their venues, and have disrupted other stage performers and audience members in the middle of shows. Some musicians have entered into mediations with the DCPA, and have successfully come to agreements that include adding a decibel-meter display on the corners where they perform.

What this conflict brings to the forefront is that business interests are often at odds with those exercising their first amendment rights of freedom of speech and expression.

There is a legal and legitimate way to fight for your first amendment rights while busking. Buskers and panhandlers that have exercised their rights to speak on the streets of Colorado towns have successfully challenged and defeated laws—even though business owners generally have more resources available—that tried to prevent them from doing so.

If your civil rights are being infringed upon be certain to contact a reputable and experienced entertainment attorney who can bring your voice to the courts. For more information on this area, see our entertainment law overview.

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