TRAVERSE CITY — Summer melodies from Tom Allard's ukulele drifted down Front Street like cottonwood seeds buoyed by bay breezes.
Allard, a semi-retired pilot who boasts a musical bent, found Thursday a perfect first day to join the ranks of street performers who fiddle, strum, sing or twist balloons for downtown pedestrians. He plucked his ukulele from a bench, enjoyed the sunshine and even joined a friend who passed by in an impromptu song.
"He should be fined," Allard joked as his friend walked away. "He doesn't have a license."
It cost Allard $40 for his Traverse City street performer permit. He's not happy about paying the fee, but it keeps him on the right side of a street performer city ordinance that comes with a fine of at least $200 for violators.
Traverse City Clerk Benjamin Marentette said his office issued 24 such permits this year. He said city commissioners passed the ordinance in 2003 to cut down on street performers and the crowds they attract, a mass that tends to clog already busy downtown sidewalks, especially along Front Street.
"There are regulations where they're allowed, and places they're not," he said.
Street performers of all stripes -- musicians, actors, dancers, jugglers, magicians, puppeteers and sidewalk artists -- are required to obtain the annual permit if they plan to draw crowds along public sidewalks, parks, playgrounds and other pedestrian areas.
Marentette said infractions usually are resolved with a warning, and fines are rare. But Traverse City brothers Kewayden Brauker, 19, and Maayingan Brauker, 17, recently learned fines are possible.
The Braukers received two tickets in two days -- totaling $700 each, they said -- after the permit-less duo warbled Bob Marley tunes in the Jay Smith Walkway off Front Street. The brothers plan to fight in 86th District Court what they consider a potential infringement on their freedom of speech.