Aaron Milligan-Green is the dreadlocked drummer for a joyous band of troubadours called the Jungle Love Orchestra, who either create culture and community or foist their noise on an unsuspecting public—depending whom you ask. The average person on the street seems to have no complaint with Milligan-Green's ramshackle sounds, but to the Santa Rosa Police Department, music performed on the street is a citable offense. For some time, he was asked to move along by police. Then he actually got a ticket simply for playing music with a friend in Railroad Square's Depot Park.
So he's got a plan. It's a plan that relies on the participation of as many people as possible who believe that street music should be free and legal and not confined to a "free speech" zone. He's calling it the Renegade Art Revival, and the concept is simple: flood the streets with so many honking and squawking and singing and tweeting and banging and marching and twanging musicians and dancers and cyclists and costumed marchers and artists that the police couldn't possibly issue tickets to everyone. Think of it as a Critical Mass for horns.
Guerrilla concerts downtown—on street corners, in the post office, on rooftops, in tunnels, at Courthouse Square—have long been a fixture of underground music in Santa Rosa. The Renegade Art Revival aims to bring that energy aboveground and in plain sight. "There are two things I hope to accomplish," Milligan-Green declares between bites of a BLT at the Third Street Aleworks, where his seven-piece street band often plays in a nearby courtyard. "One is really just to show the general public at large that there's nothing wrong with having this kind of spontaneous activity, this free expression going on in our public places. It doesn't have to be a community vs. commerce mentality, which we have currently. Let's recognize the fact that community complements commerce.
"The other reason," he continues, "is that those laws have been in place for so long now, people are genuinely intimidated to come out and do any of this in public. Not because they're scared of the punitive measures that they might face—but they're so self-conscious because they don't see anybody else out there doing it."
The police department's position is that they're just upholding the letter of the law, an assertion that falsely assumes that laws are not elastic. When Milligan-Green and his seven-piece band break into a version of "Haitian Fight Song" on the downtown streets, the police could easily let it slide. Instead, they issue a ticket, citing the law.
Milligan-Green has the ordinance memorized—"Section 17-16.090, the one titled 'Drums and Other Instruments'"—and has collected 2,500 signatures to overturn it, even digging up the city council meeting minutes from 1972 to discover how it was voted in. He connected with Vicky Kumpfer, the former director of the Arts District in Santa Rosa, who held a series of meetings with downtown leaders. He's hopeful that the ordinance will eventually be overturned, but one of the initial ideas in those meetings—to have an "OK to play" area downtown—rubbed him and others the wrong way.
"The idea of having to post up a sign that says you're a designated city of Santa Rosa street performer—it's kinda like, 'Wait a second. I'm not an employee. I don't need to rep you guys,'" he says. "It felt like, by doing that, the city essentially is taking all the credit for it. Like, 'Oh, we're granting you permission to be out here playing. It's not your own will; it's that we're allowing you to be out here, and you're gonna have this sign showing everyone that we're allowing you to be out here.'"
The Renegade Art Revival, Milligan-Green says, is in defiance of that flawed concept: that a citizen's music and expression should be confined to a designated zone in the city. "We're trying to set an example," he says. "Yes, it's a protest, but it's not an angry, riotous protest. No, this is a celebration. It's coming out and celebrating creativity and celebrating community. That's the idea. That's the attitude we want to cultivate."
The Renegade Art Revival makes a raucous noise on Saturday, Aug. 8, at Railroad Square in Santa Rosa at noon. Meet with instruments, bikes, costumes, toys and other assorted props; participants will walk toward Courthouse Square and disperse around the streets throughout the afternoon.