I am just one of the thousands of entertainers statewide who recently have been prohibited from performing indoors or outdoors by a new directive issued by Gov. Jay Inslee, in order to cut down on COVID-19 transmission. The underlying concern behind this directive is that performances engender crowding with audiences that in turn elevates virus spread.

In my case, I am a street performing piano player at the Pike Place Public Market, where I’ve busked for 34 years. How strange and unsettling it is to suddenly find that my livelihood has been banned by the governor. And how upsetting it is to not be able to make a living, based on what I believe to be a misguided and discriminatory policy.

With the advent of Phase 2 in King County approximately three weeks ago, countless businesses in and out of the Market have reopened. I was able to resume street performing on July 5 after 14 weeks of being shut down. And then, after resuming performing for only two weeks, I was again shut down by the Market administration on July 20.

Author and Pike Place Market busker Jonny Hahn in 2014. (Alan Berner/ The Seattle Times)
Author and Pike Place Market busker Jonny Hahn in 2014. (Alan Berner/ The Seattle Times)

During the two weeks that I performed, like everybody else operating a business, I wore a facial covering. At first I experienced an equipment malfunction problem involving my face mask, which kept sliding down my face when I sang, but I got that rectified when I switched to a bandanna. Additionally, I posted signs all around my piano asking people to socially distance.

There are very few people coming to the Market these days and, at most, four or five people at a time stopped to listen to me. And in each instance these groupings consisted of members of a single family, or a group of friends. With a handful of exceptions, people honored six-foot distancing.


Yet now I’m shut down again, while a vast array of businesses that are far more likely to be COVID-19 transmission sites than I or other buskers would be are allowed to operate. It makes one wonder if the governor or his advisers have ever left their offices or homes to physically observe what’s happening at the Market or other public spaces, in order to make cogent policy choices.

I am not an idiot. I fully grasp the seriousness of this public-health emergency, and I understood the need of the governor’s stay-at-home directive back in March. But now that much of the economy has reopened in a scaled-back manner, to single out entertainers, and in particular street performers, for prohibition is highly unjust. Fact: There is no crowding going on in the Pike Place Market.

I voted for Gov. Inslee twice. I enthusiastically supported his presidential bid. I’ve applauded his leadership vis-à-vis addressing the pandemic up to this point. But now I don’t know what to think. I do know this: I like my job just as much as he likes his, quite possibly even more.