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Clarinetist Doesn't Like the Way City Hall Plays

The San Clemente Pier regular will fight the citation he got while performing.

October 20, 2005|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

Patrick Crosby plans on taking his clarinet to court next month. "I'll just play the tunes the jury grew up with," he reasons. "I'll play 'Begin the Beguine,' and I don't see how I can lose."

Music, says Crosby, is his best weapon in fighting City Hall over artistic expression.

At issue: a citation he recently received for playing his clarinet near the San Clemente Pier while accepting donations from appreciative listeners without a business permit, which would have set him back $110 a year.

"It's all about free expression, free speech, undue influence and the arbitrary use of police power," says Crosby, a 57-year-old retired aerospace engineer known on the Internet as San Clemente Moose. He's been playing the clarinet since he was 8.

For the last 2 1/2 years he's been playing it almost nightly on or near the pier, where passersby of all ages enjoy a repertoire that includes "Moon River," "Misty," "Camptown Races," various Patti Page tunes and, of course, "Begin the Beguine," which he describes as "magic for the elderly."

Older people prefer that or "Moon River," Crosby says; "young kids like it when I jazz up nursery tunes like 'Old MacDonald.' "

Earlier this month, however, he encountered someone who didn't like his music at all: the manager of the Fisherman's Restaurant & Bar at the foot of the pier who ordered Crosby away.

The clarinetist, a man of slight build who favors shorts and white socks, left the area, but not before getting into a physical and verbal fight with another musician with whom he was competing for space. The next night he returned to play again, but this time with an added accessory: a hand-printed sign reading "Boycott Fisherman's."

That's when sheriff's deputies arrived.

After issuing the citation, Crosby said, the deputy "told me that if I continued ... I would end up in jail."

The upshot: an order to appear in court Nov. 18 on a charge of operating a business without a license, a misdemeanor carrying a $500 fine. Crosby plans to fight the citation.

Interviews with authorities confirmed his account.

Laura Warden, a night manager at Fisherman's, said the restaurant was responding to complaints from some of its customers in asking Crosby to move.

"It was nothing personal at all," she said. "He was up here disturbing our patrons."

The next day when he showed up with the sign, Warden said, a restaurant manager called authorities.

"We don't need someone in front of our restaurant saying don't eat there; it's pretty basic," she said.

The problem, according to Laura Ferguson, a spokeswoman for the city of San Clemente, wasn't the sign but that Crosby was accepting donations. "A musician who requests donations is categorized as a solicitor of funds," she said, "and a solicitor must seek a business license from the city."

Though street musicians frequently play at or near the pier, Ferguson said, most do so for free. "The city doesn't actively pursue people who play music.... They're entitled to play as long as they're not seeking money."

Jon Fleischman, a spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff's Department, which polices San Clemente, said the deputy who cited Crosby was just responding to a citizen's complaint. "We are reactive," he explained. "We go out there if someone complains to see if the law is being broken."

In this case, he said, it was.

Crosby, meanwhile, says he has returned to the scene with his clarinet, but minus the collection cup and out of the offended restaurant's earshot, on several occasions since the day he was cited. Aside from what he describes as a few "intimidating" interrogations by sheriff's deputies, nothing untoward has occurred.

That seemed to be the case on a recent Wednesday as the clarinetist enthralled evening strollers with repeated renditions of, among other things, "Begin the Beguine."

"I think it's awesome," Missouri transplant Sarah Allison, 21, said of the lone clarinet player's presence near the pier. "Absolutely fantastic."

Liz Paegel, 55, of San Diego expressed similar sentiments.

"He's wonderful," she said. "Did you see that twinkle in his eye?"

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