I first encountered the term busking when Ed and I were visiting Vancouver, British Columbia. We were down by the waterfront and saw a sign citing hours and regulations. It took me a while to figure out what it meant. I am used to seeing loitering and panhandling signs but…busking? Busking is the act, and art, of playing live on the street. Vancouver is filled with talented street performers that stake out their favorite niche and entertain passersby with their art and their patter. I suppose in larger cities there is a vigorous pecking order governing the best spots and times. Streets around the world are filled with artists who are sharing their craft and performing for tips. Yes, for tips. Don’t forget that part! Many folks make their living from playing on the street.
This past weekend was Memorial Day and the square in downtown Prescott was hopping. Memorial Day is a time to give thanks to the men and women who give service to our country and, to welcome in summer. I took the opportunity to setup with my friend Kevin Scheevel, in front of Christina’z Boutique, a great downtown clothing store. There is a highly-respected western art show each year at this time. With our backs pressed to the storefront to allow pedestrians free access to the sidewalk, we played, sang, and cajoled people walking by on the street.
In this situation, we set up a bit of a sound system to draw interest from all the activity across the street on the square. When you are busking, it is important to be courteous and respectful of businesses impacted by your location. We were electrified and not far from a church holding Sunday morning services so we were careful to modulate our sound. You also have to be mindful of local ordinances. You may be asked to move along. If you are friendly, and your art is appealing, you are an attractive nuisance that can bring foot traffic to local businesses. That can be a good thing.
The next time we go busking, we will go acoustic and roam. There is much to be said for freedom from technology. Finding a location with good natural acoustics, like a doorway, can be a good way to amplify your sound. A word of advice – if you are going to busk, you really need to speak up and engage with people. I have seen many musicians that play in a doorway or sitting on a park bench, shyly performing, perhaps too afraid to interact with people on the street. If you are going to put yourself out there, do it with style, warmth, and connection.
Remember to setup your instrument case, a hat, or a jar to collect your gratuities 🙂