And the One-Man Band Played On: The City Can't Stop the Music

It's an old routine: A maintenance truck rolls up to the corner of Fourth and Market streets, right outside the Old Navy department store. The driver gets out and approaches a stack of buckets, milk crates, and unopened cans of tomatoes, all piled precariously on a dolly and tied together with cord. Affixed to them was a picture of the actor Will Smith, and a handwritten plea from the owner, Larry “Bucketman” Hunt. “SF/City is banning Bucketman New Generation Band,” the sign says. “Got $460 ticket for playing. Please help.”

Hunt, who rents a room in the Tenderloin, was nowhere to be found when his effects were commandeered last Monday ­— and the Department of Public Works couldn't confirm that its street crews carted the buckets off to an operations yard in Hunters Point. But Hunt says that's what's happened in the past. At any rate, when he came back an hour later, his income-generator was gone.

For most of his adult life, Hunt has played drums on public streets or college campuses, usually picking well-trafficked areas that maximize his tips, but also create the most disturbance. Thus, his busking career has been a long series of legal battles. In Berkeley, he got slapped with tickets for playing on the Cal campus, but the court generally threw them out. After squabbling with university beat cops for more than a decade, Hunt quit voluntarily and moved to a tonier retail district in San Francisco.

But the noise complaints kept coming, and the cops patrolling his new digs turned out to be even tougher. In the last year, Hunt says that city officials have seized his buckets at least four times. The $460 ticket he received in July seemed like a coup de grâce.

He's resigned to keep fighting. “I'm gonna get a bunch of new buckets,” Hunt says, explaining that he has an ample supply: He gets some of them from a janitor at Westfield mall, and others from the garbage bins outside of Ross. He also has a full drum kit, though it's heavier to lug around, and he doesn't like to leave it on a street corner.

Once he pays the noise disturbance fine ­— now reduced to $115 ­— he plans to sue the city for civil rights violations. “My bass guitar player ­— he got the same ticket,” Hunt says. “And he's suing.”

In fact, it took several days of busking for 12 hours on end to amass the $115. And Hunt still has other bills to pay. He covers rent with a Social Security check, but busks to defray the phone bill.

He says the noise won't stop any time soon.

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