Why don't we listen to street musicians?
Because they suck. Or at least most of them do. There are a few exceptions: I thought the street musicians in New Orleans (pre-Hurricane Katrina) were pretty good, this guy is obviously fantastic, and, surprisingly, the musicians in the Montreal metro station aren't that bad. In fact, they're not supposed to be.
The last time I was in Montreal, I was quickly trying to leave the metro when I heard someone playing the guitar. Of course, this instantly set off my reaction to walk faster (Do you know how many people "play guitar?" The guy on Ludlow comes to mind.) Then I actually listened for a couple of seconds and thought, "Hey, this guy actually isn't BAD." It was shocking.
I didn't think much of this until I switched on the TV in my hotel room, and the CBC was doing a story about Montreal street musicians. My memory is a little fuzzy, but I remember that musicians had to audition for certain spots in the Metro. One violinist-piano duo was able to support their daughter's college education. Others were able to make a decent living.
After doing some internet research, I found that a couple of major Canadian cities have some sort of system which delegates musicians to certain parts of their subway system. According to this CBC article about Toronto's Subway Elvis (yes, that's what I said), Toronto subway officials implemented the Subway Musicians' Program. This requires musicians to audition for the chance to perform in subway stations. Also, according to this same article, there isn't an audition requirement to play in the Montreal metro (so I may have remembered the CBC television piece incorrectly), but they do regulate themselves via l'Association des musiciens indépendents du métro de Montréal (la MIME), formed in 1983.
Unfortunately, I was reading in a couple of blogs which state that Montreal is limiting its musician metro space. This disheartens me a little. I believe that these Canadian street musicians add to the metro. And, like I mentioned earlier, provide a living for some. In fact, Russell Martin's dad, according to Wikipedia, used to play saxophone in Montreal metro stations to help pay for his baseball training.
Oops, did I mention that the Dodgers are in town this weekend? I'm off to the ballpark.