Bruce Goldish playing guitar at the Santa Barbara Courthouse. (March 16, 2015)
Paul Wellman

The first time was on a whim. Bruce Goldish happened to have his nylon string guitar and small amp with him when he parked on the second floor of the city garage next to Marshalls. (At the time it was Borders.) He looked at the concrete above and below and thought to himself, “I bet this would sound awesome in here, and I bet I can get away with it for at least ten minutes before they stop me.” He was right on both counts — for 11 years.

Every so often, usually at night, Goldish’s music — a mixture of furious fingerpicking and rhythmic harmonics — would echo out of the parking garage and glide over the sidewalk below. Passersby would tilt their heads up and smile at the unexpected splash of acoustic color along the carefully manicured State Street corridor. Next to an upturned hat and a few CDs for sale was his “Guest Book” full of handwritten notes that read: “Beautiful on a Sunday evening. Like being serenaded by the moon,” “You add to the magic of this city,” and, “It’s been a difficult time for us. What a sweet surprise to discover you here.”

Earlier this month, Goldish played his last show in Lot 9. A parking employee he’d never seen before — “not the friendly regular attendants,” he said — took it upon himself for reasons unclear to enforce the city code that technically forbids such unsanctioned performances. City officials and police more often than not allow busker types to do their thing unhassled — unless there’s a complaint. “It only takes one,” said Goldish.

The parking employee told Goldish in late February that he would notify the police every time he saw him in the garage. The employee, said Goldish, admitted he hadn’t received any complaints himself, but he failed to offer an explanation for his crackdown. “He seemed to take my presence personally,” said Goldish, a registered nurse in Cottage Hospital’s intensive care unit. “And sadly, [he] was raising his voice, aggressively enforcing, right in front of this nice young couple and their little girl who’d stopped to listen.”

Two weeks later on March 6, police officers approached Goldish in the garage and reluctantly told him he had to leave. They shook his hand, said they’d been fans for years, and hoped he could work something out with city staff. Three days later, Goldish spoke with a parking supervisor, who wouldn’t budge. “Bottom line,” Goldish explained, “he said I’m finished. … But I have no idea why [he] decided to put the hammer down this time.”

Goldish said he always made sure no one blocked traffic when they stopped to listen, he would sometimes pay for people’s parking fees when they forgot their wallet, and he on occasion gave first aid to street people and late night partiers. Relations between him and the city were always cordial. In 2006, he was invited to play at the grand opening of the Granada Garage. “I just don’t get it,” he said.

Goldish didn’t want to provide The Independent with the name of the parking supervisor he spoke with, who he described as a “decent guy,” because the man may have just been doing his job and made a “sucky” decision. “I wouldn’t want him maligned,” Goldish explained. “While it’s been such a punch in the gut, him shutting me down, he did passively let it happen till now, and I am very grateful for that.” In addition to his free public shows, Goldish regularly performs at Santa Barbara venues. He has upcoming appearances at the Coral Casino, SOhO, and a Doctors Without Walls event at Elings Park.

The Independent has reached out to the city’s parking division with multiple calls and emails seeking comment, but has not heard back. Representatives with the Public Works department were not immediately available for interview. This story will be updated if any statements are provided.

Though disappointed, Goldish is appreciative of all his years in the garage. The lot could be a downright scary place late at night — with “stone cold gangbangers, screaming mentally ill, and people stumbly drunk” — but it held a certain magic that kept drawing him back: “Sometimes I’d play a regular gig, like a three-hour set at Cold Spring Tavern, and be exhausted,” he said. “Then I’d go to the parking structure and play six hours straight, and have to make myself quit, more energized than when I’d started. Loved the romance when I would suddenly be date music. Loved seeing little kids’ eyes light up at the weird spectacle and lush sound. Loved knowing you can transform an ugly thing into something altogether better.”

In a farewell Facebook post, Goldish thanked State Street business owners for appreciating his music, his wife for bringing him pizza during long sessions, and the lot itself for introducing him to so many people from all over the world whose Guest Book comments he will always cherish. (Read them all here.) Goldish gets there are rules. “I’m not against rules,” he said. “There are plenty of good ones.” But, he said, life is nuance — “There’s a time when rules are guidelines and exceptions are what’s right.”

[Update, 1 p.m.]: City traffic planner Rob Dayton said he was similarly disappointed by the end of the Goldish era. Dayton said Goldish had a longstanding, off-the-books agreement with parking managers to play in Lot 9 under certain conditions, but that in recent years Goldish had started to push the boundaries of their arrangement. He switched from acoustic to amplified guitar, Dayton explained, started playing earlier in the evening, and attracted larger crowds. These changes detracted enough from the garage’s core function as a public parking lot that he was asked to scale back his performances. Goldish, Dayton said, declined to do so. Dayton said their conversations will continue. “We’ll see what we can do.”

[Update, 3/22, 11 a.m.]: According to Goldish, he has always played with a small amp, and the number of spectators never swelled to more than a few passersby. Goldish admitted he recently tried playing earlier in the day, but was unaware it had caused any problems. Lastly, he claimed he was never told to scale back his performances or stop selling CDs before he was banned from the garage. (Editor’s Note: This update has been amended since its original posting.)


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