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Booted Off the Watchtower - The Local East Village Blog - NYTimes.com


Booted Off the Watchtower


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James MetalarcKenan Christiansen James Metalarc, 37, taking down equipment after playing a set at Astor Place Station. The popular street musician is considering quitting because of regulations that prevent him from playing.

Last month, The Local brought you the story of James Metalarc, a street musician who plays Jimi Hendrix tunes at the Astor Place subway station.

On Thursday, Mr. Metalarc, who is also known as Jamal Butler, contacted the blog to report his growing frustrations over MTA regulations which allow police to drive him out of the subway. He added that he was thinking about quitting.

“What I do, I do for a living,” Mr. Metalarc said in a telephone interview. “I’m not hurting anybody.”

His problems arise from the type of music he plays. The MTA’s “Rules of Conduct” do not allow musicians using sound amplifiers to perform on subway platforms, citing that the noise level can interfere with subway operations. Even in the designated performance mezzanines, amplifiers must be kept below the 85-decibel limit.

“I don’t see how that is fair,” Mr. Metalarc said. “I’ve seen a guy down there banging on a full drum set. He can’t control how loud he is, but at least my amp has a volume control.”

Weary of getting bounced from station to station, Mr. Metalarc began applying to the MTA’s Music Under New York program, which holds yearly auditions and grants members special access to 25 high-traffic areas throughout the transit system, including a mezzanine in the station at 14th Street and Union Square. This year he was given his third rejection notice.

James MetalarcKenan Christiansen Mr. Metalarc during a set.

Amy Hausmann, the assistant director of Arts for Transit, explained that each year the program receives about 300 applicants, of which about 30 become full members.

“Musicians are selected based on the quality of music, the variety they add to the group, and based on the appropriateness of their music to the subway environment,” Ms. Hausmann said.

She acknowledged that some musicians have to apply multiple years and encouraged artists like Mr. Metalarc to keep trying. But whether he became a member or not, it still would not affect Mr. Metalarc’s right to play at Astor Place. An MTA spokesman confirmed that no sound amplifiers were allowed on subway platforms, except in designated areas, which Astor is not.

Mr. Metalarc continues to lament the audition panel’s decision. He feels if there’s one thing he has to offer the city, it’s variety.

“This city’s never seen someone like me before,” he said.

There’s also the possibility that it may never again.

James MetalarcKenan Christiansen Mr. Metalarc after a set at the Astor Place station.