Sunday, May 29, 2011

Musician Crackdown At Central Park's Bethesda Fountain

DEFIANT: Musicians including John Boyd are being ticketed at Bethesda Fountain, newly designated a 'Quiet Zone.'

DEFIANT: Musicians including John Boyd are being ticketed at Bethesda Fountain, newly designated a "Quiet Zone." Is this in preparation for a new 30 table bar/food concession the City is quietly planning to install five feet away?

Mr. Boyd holding seven of his summonses. (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on images to enlarge.


City officials began blitzing street musicians with nuisance summonses and posted a "Quiet Zone" sign last week at the beloved Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, where virtuoso performers have been making beautiful music together for over a century, according to the New York Post.

On weekends, baritone John Boyd, 48, would belt out spirituals backed by a choir including six of his nine children and fellow classical buskers. But two months ago, Parks police descended on the Bethesda Terrace arcade with a message: Muzzle the music.

Last week, they posted a Quiet Zone sign banning Boyd and other serious musicians from playing in the arcade where world-class performers offer their talents for free to ordinary New Yorkers.

Bethesda Terrace Arcade. For more than a century, the area around Bethesda Terrace has been one of the cultural centers of Central Park. It has been home to thousands of talented musicians and street performers who contribute to the cultural fabric of New York City and complement the area's inspiring views.

The silky baritone's clash with officials started two months earlier.

"The Parks Department cops came and said the rules will be revamped," Boyd told The Post. "A month ago they started issuing me summonses because I would not stop singing."

After being hit with five summonses totaling $2,300, the former choir director from Detroit was arrested by Parks cops Wednesday and hauled in handcuffs to the Central Park police station.

"I have a right to free speech," said Boyd. "When I sing, it is expressing what I believe in. I told them, 'You are not chasing me away.' "

Classical harpist Meta Epstein, 59, of Mill Basin, Brooklyn, won first prize at the Paris Conservatory of Music in the 1970s. But she's afraid to play in the park.

"It was very intimidating. It was a patch of dirt. They told me I was destroying the ground, but there were picnickers right there. Now I'm afraid to play, especially in the fountain terrace," she said.

Double-bass player Vasyl Fomytskyi, formerly of the Cairo Symphony Orchestra, has been playing his beloved Bach near the fountain for two years.

"If I play softly by myself, [cops] still have threatened to arrest me and confiscate my instrument," he said.

Newcomer Shigemasa Nakano, 31, a classical guitarist and opera singer, says he's disappointed because acoustics in the arcade are superb.

"But . . . I don't want to get a ticket," he said.

On Friday, passer-by Rhonda Liss, 63, of Yonkers, asked Boyd if she could join him in an impromptu duet.

"You have such a beautiful voice," said Liss, a onetime Met opera singer and "Phantom of the Opera" cast member in Toronto. The pair tossed off a jazzy rendition of "My Favorite Things."

"Is this what they want to arrest people for -- singing joy to the people?" she asked incredulously.

When asked about the music crackdown, a spokesman for the Central Park Conservancy, the cash-flush nonprofit that runs the park for the city, said: "The fountain is a place for quiet reflection."

Read More:

Musicians chased from Central Park
New York Post - May 29, 2011 - By Cynthia R. Fagen

NYC Central Park musicians told to shut up
The Associated Press - May 29, 2011

New York Times - June 1, 2011

WNYC - May 30, 2011- By Marlon Bishop


  1. Interesting development. I've never heard park visitors complaining about musicians; performers seem like a tourist draw.

  2. Steve - Native New YorkerMay 9, 2012 at 11:40 AM

    Not to the eyes of a Republican.