Yesterday was not a day for music in the streets of Alexandria.
On the even of the city's much heralded Scottish Games festival, Lee Davenport, a 30-year-old bagpiper, music teacher and sometime street musician, asked a federal judge to temporarily block enforcement of a new city ordinance that bans street musicians from, of all places, the streets.
But Davenport's claims that the law violates his First Amendment right to freedom of expression ran directly into District Judge Oren R. Lewis' logic.
"Public streets can't be used as a means of expression for anything!" the judge announced.
"How about the Pied Piper?" demanded the gruff 72-year-old jurist. "What did he do? He not only interfered with traffic, he interfered with home life -- got all the children to follow him around.
Nor was Lewis impressed by Davenport's Constitution claims. "I don't know if there's anything in the Constitution about musicians . . . People have stretched this great old Constitution of ours so far they may break it some day."
The disputed law, which restricts street musicians to a few public parks, and then by permit only, was adopted July 8 by a 4-to-3 vote of the Alexandria City Council. Street musicians create crowds, force pedestrians into the street. And that's dangerous.
Critics of the ordinance, including Mayor Charles Beatley, say it reflects the sentiments of a few Old Town merchants, who wrongly fear the musicians would turn the city into "another Georgetown" with all the attendant problems.
The mayor has denouced the law as "frivolous and unnecessary," saying it "casts us in the light of not thinking in terms of human scale, and not being self confident. Any problems that might be created by letting musicians play on the streets we could handle quickly and easily."
Davenport agrees to the tune of $5,000. That's the amount of damages his suit against the city asks. He claimed the ordinance deprives him and other street musicians of a reasonably profitable place to play, not to mention their rights to free expression.
"The places the ordinance allows us to play in don't have any people!" Davenport said. "I agree that street musicians should be licensed. But they want to keep us off the streets entirely. That's wrong."
"The city is hurting itself by going to all this trouble for a grand total of maybe five musicians," said Jo Ann Lint, 29, an Alexandrian who has played guitar and sung in front of a confectioner's shop in Old Town for the last three summers, something the new law has forced her to give up. "On the busiest days I've never seen more than two or three playing."
But yesterday Judge Lewis wasn't buying."He wouldn't be there if he wasn't drawing a crowd," Lewis told Davenport's lawyers. "He isn't playing for his own amusement. If he was, he could use the attic . . . ."
Lewis did advance the date for a second hearing on the ordinance to Aug. 13, but that won't be soon enough for Davenport.
The musician, who lives in Silver Spring, and has played on the streets of Alexandria and Georgetown for several years, had hoped to puff on his bagpipes on the streets of Old Town this weekend. He's changed his mind.
"I may play this weekend, but I won't be in Alexandria, certainly," he said. "There really wouldn't be any point."