The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is hearing a lot of sour notes from Twin Cities musicians over its unwillingness to pay them to play.

After the board sent out application notices last week for its annual Music in the Parks series — deadline: Valentine's Day, ironically to musicians — a loud backlash quickly began reverberating on social media, leading to boycott calls and even a petition.

As in previous years, the board is not offering any financial compensation for summer gigs at Lake Harriet Band Shell, Minnehaha Falls and other city parks in 2024.

"It's embarrassing that a city that fancies itself a progressive role model stubbornly maintains an 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' mentality when the music community unanimously is shouting, 'It's broke!,' " said Stephen Kung, a horn player with the Suburbs and other bands.

Park Board representatives said they simply do not have the money to pay musicians for the more than 200 shows offered in the Music in the Parks series.

In lieu of payment, they believe the featured acts can benefit from tip jars and exposure at these free public gigs. The board does pay stage and audio technicians to work the shows, which it sees as another benefit to those making the music.

"We deeply appreciate the musicians and bands who perform in the Minneapolis Music in the Park series," Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board superintendent Alfred Bangoura said in a statement to the Star Tribune. "Their enthusiasm and willingness to perform has allowed this decades-old program to grow from just a handful of concerts to nearly 225 concerts at multiple locations across Minneapolis."

However, Bangoura added, "If compensation were required, it would impact other park services and reduce the number of concerts offered to the public."

Musicians believe a purportedly arts-centric city like Minneapolis can do better. They point to other cities in Minnesota that do pay musicians to play their parks, including Duluth, Rochester, Minnetonka and Bloomington, but not St. Paul.

Singer/songwriter Katy Vernon, who has performed at Lake Harriet's band shell despite the policy, said, "It's a super fun place to play, so it's a shame.

"I've done a ton of parks shows around Minnesota, and they all have band budgets."

"Most audience members have no idea artists don't get paid, so there's a lack of transparency," said Ellen Stanley, a KFAI DJ and music publicist who performs as Mother Banjo.

Minneapolis' parks board also raised a lot of ire from the music community last year when it began requiring musicians to obtain a $40 permit simply to busk in a park.

The online petition — titled, "Make the Mpls Park Board pay performers" — drummed up more than 200 signatures in just a half-day after it went live Tuesday.

"Even modest compensation would help acknowledge that music and other creative work is work too," the petition reads.

Duluth Parks & Recreation pays between $175 and $550 for 40-to-90-minute sets in its nine-show Music in the Parks series at Chester and Lincoln parks. In Rochester, where there's a city government department dedicated to music, local acts typically make $750 for sets at one of the 11 shows in the annual Down by the Riverside and forWARD concert series.

"All of our musicians are paid," Avital Rabinowitz, director of the Rochester Public Music department, proudly noted.

"Especially with musicians, a lot of people don't understand that a lot more work goes into a performance than simply showing up and plugging in. The hours of practice, the travel, the equipment costs. They deserve to be paid fairly."

There have been rare circumstances where musicians were paid to play sponsored events in Minneapolis parks. Linden Hills Dentistry has hired well-known local bands such as the Jayhawks and the Suburbs to perform at a promotional party in recent summers at Lake Harriet Bandshell, where the Star Tribune also pays musicians to play its Music & Movies series every August.

Minneapolis Park Board commissioners expressed appreciation for the unpaid musicians' role in livening up the parks, but like the superintendent, they said there's no way performers for all 220 concerts get paid under the current budget.

"I think it's really important for us to value the musicians and others who perform in our parks, but our hands really are tied," said Billy Menz, commissioner for District 1, where a new stage hosts acts at Father Hennepin Bluff Park.

Tom Olsen, a park board commissioner-at-large, said, "With so many pressing budget priorities, it's difficult to see where cuts would come from to pay artists who can't or won't perform for free."

Olsen said he "would welcome any creative solutions around fundraising or sponsorship that would result in additional funds to better compensate artists." However, no one at the Minneapolis Park Board cited any movement or discussions toward heeding musicians' calls for payment.

Their counterparts in St. Paul at least said they are trying.

"While direct financial compensation is not currently available, we continue to explore potential community partnerships to allow for compensation in the future," said Clare Cloyd, public service manager at St. Paul Parks & Recreation.

In Rochester, the city government's music liaison pointed to sponsorship money and arts grants as ways to possibly pay players. However, she also noted the challenge Minneapolis' Park Board faces because it hosts more performances than most other cities — around 220 Music in the Parks shows in 2024.

"To go overnight from not paying hundreds of musicians at all to paying them equitably every season is a very tall order," Rabinowitz said.

Still, she added, "Even just a stipend communicates something meaningful to hard-working performers."