Shots Fired at Fremont Street Experience (Not That Kind)


Fremont Street Street Experience has had enough of seeing visitors badgered by aggressive street performers demanding payment for shows or photo ops.

The downtown venue has begun using digital signs to let tourists know tipping is completely optional, along with advising them of the fact street performers aren’t employed or screened by Fremont Street Experience. Or anyone, really.

New signage is part of a years-long effort to protect free speech while dealing with increasingly bad behavior on the part of buskers, including scantily-clad women who sometimes demand obscene compensation for photos.

Reminder: “Showgirls” on Fremont Street aren’t actual showgirls (and not just because these are A.I. “showgirls”). You can tell from the quotation marks.

Full disclosure: We worked at Fremont Street Experience for six years in digital marketing. The gig gave us a perspective others may not have, as well as an appreciation for the unique situation on Fremont Street, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.

As we’ve shared on various occasions, Fremont Street is a public street. That makes the venue unique, vastly different from similar promenades on private property such as Linq promenade or The Park (at New York-New York) on The Strip.

On private property, performers can be “curated” (screened for actual talent, background checks) or can be prohibited completely.

As a public street, Fremont Street Experience has to grapple with some thorny issues, including the fact many “performers” don’t perform anything. Sometimes, they weave palm fronds into flowers or hold signs that say, “Kick me in the nuts, $20.”

Many tourists assume these magnificent idiots are employees of Fremont Street Experience, which is untrue. (Fremont Street Experience does employ bands on the venue’s three stages.)

Whenever Fremont Street Experience or the City of Las Vegas attempt to limit buskers, usually due to complaints from tourists or downtown casinos and other businesses, the ACLU sues. Public street, First Amendment rights must be protected.

It’s a dance, really, and managing buskers has evolved over the years. Now, buskers enter a “lottery” for performance spaces during evening hours. During the day, they roam, and that includes costumed characters and “showgirls” who pose for photos with visitors.

Back in 1995, the performance circles were fancy (and were torn up approximately six minutes after installation).

Technically, costumed characters and other performers can’t “charge” a fee or payment for their shows or services.

Sometimes, people in busker circles lay out their work—paintings, jewelry, caricatures. It’s all free for the taking, tips only.

We actually own two pieces of that artist’s work, so not the best example. You get the point.

The problem is tourists often don’t understand buskers can’t charge for their shows or services, and reports of aggressive attempts to collect such payment have skyrocketed. (The problem isn’t limited to downtown. The issue is also common on The Strip on public sidewalks.)

A common scenario we’ve witnessed downtown: Drunk guy in cowboy hat stumbles by busker circle. Attractive woman with bespoke cleavage smacks drunk guy’s butt with a whip. This gets his attention. Women ask if he’d like a photo. He says “yes.” He has eyes. His friend takes a photo. Everyone has a good laugh at the provocative poses, sometimes overtly sexual. The buskers then mention there’s a $50 charge for the photo. The drunk guy has a mild seizure. Oh, and it’s $50 per woman. Some visitors pay the money, many don’t. The folks who don’t are often verbally badgered, some are chased down the street being berated by the buskers.

Fremont Street Experience gets a constant flow of complaints, so it’s time to let visitors know what’s up. The signs say, “Street performers are not employees of Fremont Street Experience and cannot demand payment.” One sign specifically mentions “showgirls” and “acrobats.”

Yes, we need an iPhone upgrade. We don’t go to your blog and make fun of your crappy photos!

Fremont Street Experience started showing these signs at the beginning of the year, but initially displayed them only during the daytime. We trust that was to test the waters with the ACLU and Big Busker.

While these signs are a step in the right direction, it’s likely the busker scammery and intimidation will continue.

Many downtown visitors don’t speak English, and some buskers take advantage of that fact, as foreign guests don’t want to get into confrontations, verbal or otherwise, on vacation. They meet the buskers’ demands and move on, many with a feeling described by consumer advocates as “having taken it in the butt.”

There’s a timeless love-hate relationship between Fremont Street and street performers. Many visitors consider the performers a colorful and memorable part of the Fremont Street, well, experience. Others hate the insufferable din coming from homemade amplification systems or asshats drumming on pickle tubs. Guess which camp we’re in.

Yes, there are ordinances about how loud performers can be, but enforcement is impossible. Fremont Street Street security or Metro reprimand those violating the ordinances, but as soon as they walk away, the volume is cranked up again. This contributes to the noise problem on Fremont Street, because the venue is forced to turn up its own volume levels to try and drown out the buskers.

Don’t get us started.

Anyway, props to Fremont Street Experience for trying something new to get the busker extortion racket under control.

Our recommendation: If you’d like a photo with someone on Fremont Street, have at it. You decide the tip. A $5 gratuity for a photo isn’t unreasonable. If they demand more, take your $5 and move along. If you’re badgered by the busker, mention it to a Fremont Street security guard. Security guards are everywhere and are some of the most patient people in the world.

Ultimately, we’re a big fan of the adage, “Don’t feed the pigeons.”

Speaking of which, somebody in local media needs to poke around about where all the actual pigeons went on Fremont Street. Let’s just say it’s not an uptick in coyotes or red-tailed hawks.

We love pigeons. Does it sound like we prefer pigeons over buskers? Let’s just say your reading comprehension skills are on-point today! See, pigeons can’t beat on pickle drums because they don’t have arms. ‘Nuff said.


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