It’s not good when one of the city’s top tourist attractions — the Reading Terminal Market — figuratively kicks a street musician to the curb, and that’s sure what it sounds like happened to flute player Felix Wilkins, 72, according to columnist Helen Ubiñas, writing in today’s Philadelphia Daily News.
It’s not the first time Wilkins has run up against security guards and cops who don’t apparently care what the city’s public music ordinance says, and now he’s suing. From Ubiñas’ column:
After hassling and accosting Wilkins on Jan. 19, security guards flagged down police officers driving by in a patrol wagon. When the cops put him in handcuffs, an officer kicked him on the ground. His flute was also damaged. Wilkins says he thought he was being arrested. But a few minutes later, the doors of the patrol wagon swung open and he was dropped off at LOVE Park.
“Stay here,” Wilkins says the cops told him. “You’ll make more money here anyway.”
Incensed, Wilkins walked back to the terminal and continued to play.
Three days later, Wilkins went to the Albert Einstein Medical Center emergency room with finger, shoulder and back pain, hospital records show, that he says he suffered during the arrest.
Wilkins said he was accosted at 12th and Arch on March 9 by one of the same market guards. That time he says he played the “Star-Spangled Banner” as loud as he could while the guard kicked his case and belongings into the street.
“I wanted to send a message, that this is America and I had rights,” Wilkins said.
But in case they didn’t get the message through his patriotic song, Wilkins has also filed a civil lawsuit against Reading Terminal Market and the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority. He also plans to sue at least two Philadelphia cops.
Read the Ubinas column in full here.
Felix Wilkins playing at City Hall, October 2013.
It’s not unusual to see street musicians performing on the perimeter of Reading Terminal Market, especially along 12th Street near Filbert. My guess is that somebody — the security guards or market management or both — don’t appreciate Wilkins’ brand of busking.
He’s smartly dressed, but not one of the younger, robust musicians playing blues guitar or some more popular form of street entertainment. He’s an older guy, a retired music teacher, and his style is more understated than what those musicians who draw a big crowd have to offer.
I suspect his performance doesn’t fit someone’s idea of what the market wants to project. He’s not cool. In the Ubiñas column, the manager of Reading Market professes to be uncertain what the city’s ordinance allows, a response that has spin control written all over it.
I ran into Wilkins last October outside City Hall, where he said he played on Fridays. We chatted and he was gentlemanly and congenial. His m.o. was to ask people what their heritage was, then play a tune that seemed to fit in. I asked if I could shoot a little video of him and he said that would be OK. (See it above, or by clicking here.)
One listen and you’ll see that Felix Wilkins deserves better than what he allegedly got from the Reading Market security guards and the Philadelphia police.
If all this has a familiar ring to it, it might be because it recalls another Philadelphia Daily News column written in 2007 by Jill Porter, about another big tourism site, Rittenhouse Square, and the street performer Anthony Riley, who spent a night in jail when cops claimed he was violating a city ordinance. They were wrong that time, too.