At about one in the morning last Sunday, Dan Clapp, 33, and Jeanne Pencek, 23, were playing their accordions downtown when their performance was cut short. A police officer handed Clapp a $40 ticket for "conveyance of a musical device."
"We were trying to make a little money after the Griz game," Clapp says. "We weren't long into it and we had a hat full of ones. ... Then the cops shut us down."
Clapp says he'd heard of the city ordinance against unregistered musicians once before but didn't believe it was actually enforced.
"I passed dozens of musicians [Saturday] morning and another 10 that night. Every one of them had a case out [for money] and I didn't see them getting in trouble," he says.
"Conveyance of a musical device" falls under Title 9 of the Missoula Municipal Code, a section of the law titled, "Public Peace, Morals and Welfare." The law, which was written in 1979, states that "The construction, maintenance, operation, moving, carrying or transportation beside, along or upon any street, alley or public highway within the city of any radio, phonograph or other musical instrument, or other sound producing device, while same is producing, or reproducing sound, song, speech or music is declared to be a nuisance and is prohibited ..."
The law goes on to state that anyone wanting to play music in public is required to get a permit from the chief of police. Patrol Captain Chris Odlin says the ordinance is written to protect the quality of life of anyone who might be bothered by the musicians. He knows of only one person to ever actually buy the $35 permit.
"It's rarely enforced," Odlin says. "I think in most instances if a musician is playing downtown at a reasonable hour and at a reasonable volume I don't think the police would mess with it."
Regardless of how often it's enforced, Clapp says he'll apply for the permit as soon as he's able. Another musician told Clapp the permit costs $35, but they are purchased so infrequently that Odlin and city officials could not confirm the price. "It's a worthy investment, considering you should be able to [pay for it] in a night," Clapp says.