Chicago aldermen kick the Bucket (Boys)

This week’s Wisch List newspaper column from the Kankakee Daily Journal

Chicago aldermen kick the Bucket (Boys)


June 13, 2009

I swung down to Michigan Avenue last Saturday afternoon in the hopes of chatting up a Bucket Boy.

But I couldn’t find any.

Chicago’s summertime staples – known as “Bucket Boys” because of the white plastic utility buckets they use as drums to pound out intense, rhythmic beats – were tougher to locate downtown than a functioning parking meter.

And that’s tough.

Now, maybe the Bucket Boys weren’t at their usual stomping (thumping?) grounds on this day because of the drizzling rain.

Or, maybe, it was because of the aldermen.

Last week, the Chicago City Council approved a noise ordinance targeting Bucket Boys and other street musicians (but, really, Bucket Boys) that allows the city to revoke a street performer’s license – yes, even Bucket Boys are supposed to have licenses – if they get two violations for excessive volume in the span of a year.

Currently, the license can be revoked after three violations, although in extreme cases a performer’s permit could be pulled at the first violation.

The ordinance was introduced by Chicago Alderman Brendan Reilly, whose 42nd Ward includes the Magnificent Mile. Reilly said that he’s received complaints from people working in the office buildings along Michigan Avenue who claim they often can’t concentrate on their jobs during the summer months because of the noise on the street below.

He didn’t say how many of them can’t concentrate during the summer when the sun is shining outside.

(But I’m guessing the numbers would be pretty even.)

Now, the controversy over the Bucket Boys and their performances downtown – as well as around Wrigley Field on Cubs game days – is nothing new in the Windy City.

In fact, it seems to blow through most every summer.

But last week word of this new ordinance sparked the debate anew as commenters on city news sites and Chicago-related blogs began beating their drums on both sides of the issue.

“I find it sad that they may have to crack down on ALL street performers, when as far as I’m concerned it’s only the Bucket Boys that are annoying,” one person wrote on the popular blog “It’s not just that they’re loud, they’re also not particularly talented or interesting. How about getting some real drums?

“Get a real percussion ensemble going and learn some new rhythms, maybe something that people could actually dance to, instead of that one constant, rapid-pounding which appears to be the only thing one can do with a plastic bucket.”

Another commenter, however, came back with the retort, “Do you know how many movies that have … featured them [the Bucket Boys] as background? I would suggest that perhaps they should be considered part of Chicago’s unique (or what passes for unique) culture. These kids are not begging or gang banging on a street corner but are playing music (on recycled buckets).”

Yet another argued, “I still think [the Bucket Boys are] a net-positive … they bring a bit of  ‘native wonderland’ to the suburban shoppers, making their trip to the big city all the more exciting.”

Perhaps when you visit the Mag Mile, those are your thoughts, as well.

Or, perhaps, not.

But, either way, here’s my take on this topic: You don’t move to Chicago – or work there – for the peace and quiet. You’re there for the energy. And complaining about noise on Michigan Avenue – where I once did work – whether it’s from Bucket Boys, saxophone players, ambulances, honking taxis, construction equipment or something else just seems pretty silly to me.

It’s like moving to Wrigleyville and then griping about the crowds.

Don’t act like you didn’t know what you were getting yourself into.

Last week on the “Clout Street” blog at, one reader wrote about the Bucket Boys debate: “This city has become so sanitized and boring. I don’t know if it’s because of an intrusive government or whether it’s because … yuppies have moved to the city from the ‘burbs and [are] trying to make Chicago like one … I don’t know.

“But part of the beauty of living in a city of 3 million people is the diversity and ability to express individuality. Of course, the price to pay is that you’re going to run into things you don’t like or nuisances. But guess what … somebody here thinks you’re a nuisance too. It’s part of the deal.”

It is.

And, I’d argue that rather than trying to make the Bucket Boys kick the bucket, Chicago’s City Council should have bigger fish to fry. Let the Bucket Boys play. They are, after all, part of what makes Chicago, Chicago.

Even if not everyone approves.

“I work in a high rise across from where the Bucket Boys play,” another reader wrote at “I can’t hear car horns but I can hear the Bucket Boys loud and clear and it is very difficult and distracting.

“There are several horn-playing musicians on Michigan Avenue but you only hear them as you walk by. I hear the Bucket Boys 17 floors up. I would be happy to get peace and quiet in the summer.”

If that’s really the truth, then, hey, I feel for the guy. But instead of pining for The Day That Street Music Died, here’s my advice:

Buy headphones.

Join the Conversation


  1. Why should the bucket boys not be allowed to play? They are only expressing who they are and their is nothing wrong with that. I work in a drug rehab center and we are always telling the students to be who you want to be and express yourself. So if the music is to loud then you are to old.

  2. The bucket boys should play on less noisy drums! No other performers are so loud. It’s rude and thier value added is negative if it bothers more people then it helps. The performers only help themselves, while bothering everyone else!

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