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Music lovers demand their rights in Santa Rosa

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There was not much doubt about the goal of 80 noisy folks who marched Saturday through downtown Santa Rosa beating drums, blowing horns and otherwise belting out music.

They definitely were out to attract attention. And with nary a permit in sight.

Their parade was intended as civil disobedience to highlight what organizers called a serious free speech issue, yet the lively, colorful symphony they created drew smiles everywhere it went.

Passersby snapped photos, beeped horns and flashed peace signs or thrust fists in the air in support.

?How much fun is that?? asked Humboldt Street resident Peter Spaans after his lunch at Arrigoni?s Cafe on Fourth Street was interrupted by a loud sidewalk musical interlude. ?Everybody likes it!?

?Bring it on. We need more music around here,? said another cafe patron, college student Andrew Davis.

The protesters? issue? A long-standing city ordinance that bans the playing of musical instruments outdoors without a permit.

Organizers formed what they called a ?Free Speech Zone,? and asserted that permits are unnecessary where constitutionally protected free speech is concerned.

?This is a First Amendment issue,? said percussionist Aaron Milligan-Green, the primary organizer of the event.

The Renegade Art Revival included people of all ages, many dressed for show or wearing face paint, quirky hats, glasses or feathered masks. They played guitars, horns, recorders, accordions, all manner of percussion instruments and at least one banjo.

Elvis, Wonder Woman and two well-rehearsed belly dancers were among those who gathered at Railroad Square before noon, finally moving out in procession about an hour later toward Old Courthouse Square and points beyond in the downtown area.

One woman pulled a huge papier mach?grasshopper on a skateboard.

Some participants wore newly stenciled shirts with the words ?Here?s my music permit? and an arrow aimed at an image of the Constitution and the words ?We the People .<TH>.<TH>.?

Milligan-Green, who plays with a rag-tag bunch called the Jungle Love Orchestra, began organizing the demonstration months ago to protest the noise ordinances that resulted in him getting a ticket and a $246 fine in April.

Code section 17?16.090, titled ?Drums and other instruments,? states:

?It is unlawful for any person to use any drum or other instrument or device of any kind for the purpose of attracting attention by the creation of noise within the City.?

It?s not clear how often it?s enforced, but Milligan-Green said he knows at least 10 people who?ve been ticketed. Milligan-Green?s own case was dismissed despite his efforts to force the issue in court.

He and several others participants Saturday said the ordinance is used to ?harass? musicians playing in public.

Mayor Susan Gorin, interviewed by telephone, said she had no knowledge of the demonstration or even any dispute about the noise ordinance.

But Gorin said she and others on the council had casually discussed a desire to bring street musicians to downtown in some kind of regulated way, though no proposals had been made.

She said she welcomed discussion on the issue and was disappointed that protesters didn?t approach the council before hitting the streets.

?I love music, and I really appreciate the color and the wonderful tones that street musicians bring to a lively street scene. And other council members may feel the same way,? Gorin said. ?So let?s sit down and talk about it.?

Elliot Fintushel, who plays the theremin, an eerie-sounding electronic instrument frequently heard in 1950s sci-fi/alien invasion films, said a police officer once asked him to pack up his things at Courthouse Square with this explanation: ?What if everyone did this? We wouldn?t want this to turn into San Francisco.?

Fintushel said his interpretation of the code suggests it was never aimed at musical expression. ?It?s not about music,? he said. ?It?s about noise and promotion ? trucks with advertising ? that kind of thing.?

Drum maker John Jones said a drum circle and class he used to hold at Juilliard Park was closed down by police who told him the music drew an undesirable crowd.

?It?s ridiculous,? said Becky Montgomery, whose sax version of ?When the Saints Go Marching In? cut through the darkness under the Third Street overpass as she brought up the tail end of the procession Saturday. ?We?ve got a lot more important things to worry about.?

Her husband, retired city Recreation and Parks Director Bill Montgomery, said, ?I didn?t know there was an ordinance, but I?ve often commented about the lack of street musicians.?

?The city needs color and flavor,? said Magic, a Sebastopol spoken-word artist dressed as Wonder Woman. ?Were not just here as consumers to buy things.?

Against the backdrop of a staid art show and merchants? sidewalk sale at Railroad Square, the protesters and, ultimately, their music, stood out in stark relief, though without any apparent conflict or ill will.

Two bicycle officers from the police department on a pit stop at the city Visitors? Center on the square said they had no intention of interfering and rode away well before the procession began.

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