One of my favorite places to play is the Ithaca Farmers Market. It’s a covered pavilion, sort of shaped like a t with a long cross-bar and a shorter vertical line. The wooden boardwalk-style floor and the peaked roof are charming, and the open sides allow the freshness of outdoors to come in. Vendors range from the usual produce sellers to organic meats and cheeses, flowers and plants, arts and crafts, and a delicious assortment of breakfast, lunch, and dessert foods.
This year’s season opened April 2; I was busy elsewhere that weekend but went down to play this Saturday. It was sunny but a bit chilly; perhaps a third of the vendor booths were occupied, but there was still a nice crowd of visitors. I had a great time, despite not feeling my toes until after lunch. I got to chat a bit with some interesting listeners, I got to eat some delicious French onion soup and a sticky bun, and after lunch I got to jam with a fiddler and a concertina player. I love the market.
Still, there are a few concerns.
Locations: Another band was playing and singing in the center intersection — a location that is usually off-limits to musicians once the market is in full swing — and I played in the shade of the tree at the crossbar end — where the Cambodian food usually is. Once the season gets going, these locations won’t be available. In the past I’ve often played in the other end of the crossbar, where the pavilion opens into a circle with some seating. Crow, the fellow who organizes music for the market, tells me that there is some debate about whether the market will allow music in the circle end this season. The concern is that musicians would attract standing crowds, blocking traffic through the aisles. However, a soloist like myself does not take up much space and doesn’t attract standing crowds. People tend to stop and listen for a tune or two and then move on. If they disallow this location, there’s only one other place for a band: the boat landing on the shore of the lake. Most Saturdays, there’s been two or three musicians or bands, one officially scheduled, and the rest fit in where we can. If only one location is allowed, there’ll be a lot less music this season.
Checking in: All musicians and bands are supposed to check in with Crow before setting up and playing at the market. He schedules one official band each week and then fits in any other musicians where they will not interfere with one another, with foot traffic, or with vendors. Too often, musicians just show up and play without checking in. When they set up in a bad place — too close to another musician, right in front of a vendor, or in an area where they’re blocking traffic — it provokes vendor complaints and makes all of us look bad. I’ve suggested that the market make two or three badges, one for each music location, with the term “Musician” and the location on them. That would make it easier for the market manager and vendors to enforce the checking in policy. Besides, I think a lot of folks see musicians playing and just assume anyone can come play; badges will let them know that musicians need to check in.