Miscellaneous Rumbles

Buskers

1

My daily commute into work(when not driving) consists of a walk that's little over a mile. I take the underground concourse in all but the fairest weather, and aside from the occasional urine-y smelling corner, it's a pretty nice walk.

One thing I've noticed lately though, much to my surprise, is the wealth of talent the buskers have here in Philadelphia.

I've seen everything(in the last few months) from bluegrass trios, to soul quartets. Solo violinists, to small chamber orchestras. There's is a couple of folks who are in the same spot almost every morning that have these voices - just amazing, while their seeing eye dogs sit there, and seem to enjoy every note as I walk by.

Of course, I see the Bob Dylan wanna-bees, with there guitars out of tune and not being strummed in rhythm, but it's all forgivable because they aren't on your radar for any more than 30 seconds, as you make your way into work.

The balance, it seems to me, is that there is an amazing amount of talent down in the subway, and judging from the money thrown into the cases & cds sold, they look like they are doing fairly well.

So a few questions:

Where ya from, & what are some of your favorite busking acts?

Have any of you took to the subway to try and earn some coin?

If so, what was your experience?

2

I used to play my dobro on sunny days at San Francisco's Ghiradelli Square. I never made any money (I had to bus up from redwood city) but it was a world class place to busk particularly during tourist season. Looking like my avatar I wore a "Dobro" tee shirt and had a small pail hanging off my peghead so I could walk around a bit.

One time I heard this amazing female voice and tracked it down to a girl using a Pignose amp and a mic.

Dressed in a gorilla suit.

She told me she never made a dime busking just singing. The gorilla suit makes people stop and she also made side money when tourists wanted pix taken with her.

I asked her to introduce herself if she ever saw me when she wasn't wearing the gorilla suit but I never heard from her.

3

I'm in Asheville nc. Lots of buskers here, my favorite is a swing style, oldtime group called, blind boy chocolate and the milk sheiks. Check em out on you tube.

4

Greg Underwood is my favorite; usually outside Reading Terminal, sometimes underground at 8th and Market. His playing always brings a smile to my face: Link...

5

I worked as a street performer during graduate school days. My roommate was a juggler and we would work in adjoining areas in Balboa Park in San Diego. Frankly, it is how I supported myself during my grad school days.

Later, as I traveled in Europe, I worked as a busker in all of the major metropolitan areas, such as London, Stockholm, Munich, and many others. After having lived on the road there for about two and one-half months, I came home with more money than I went over with.

When I lived in Germany, I would frequently take the train up to Munich and work in the Fuessgaengerzone by the Marienplatz. Lots of tourists in that area, but also a lot of locals would stop and listen and toss some money into my case. While it wasn't my main means of support at that time, it certainly contributed significantly to it.

Those were fun days.

6

When I was busking as described earlier on guy gave me a necklace he was wearing because he didn't have any money and that was all he had to give.

I never made much money busking but it was Always an experience....

7

Here in Stockholm there is a man who plays the cymbalum, an unusual instrument with a strange beauty to it's sound. And then there is a man who plays the mandolin in a pedestrian tunnel. He plays classical stuff and creates a very peaceful atmosphere in that ugly tunnel. Besides that, too many accordionists who play Besame mucho the whole day. Some of them have very original ideas of where to change chords in the left hand.

8

Me and a bunch of friends still go busking once a year - the last Friday before Christmas. We've been doing it since 1989. Generally play Irish and indie singalong songs. It can be a surprisingly rewarding experience - both for the odd/strange people you meet and financially. We earn in the region of £180-£250 per hour ($280-$400), depending on the weather. We usually busk for a max of two hours and then clear off to the pub. What we've earned in those two hours will pay for the afternoon, the evening, a nightclub and, occasionally a curry afterwards. One of the highlights of my year.

9

I'm so glad that the "Naked Cowboy" isn't one of our members.

10

Ashland has a great busking scene. Up here in Portland Me it all depends on the weather. A couple of old time fiddle players and a few of the bad singer songwriter types.

11

I've never busked, and(in Philadelphia) you need a permit and have to perform in specific, assigned locations. I'll have to remember to bring my bloggie and get some film of these performers. Some are truly amazing.

12

Crowbone, that was the way that it was when I worked in San Diego over thirty years ago. The prime performance areas in Balboa Park were divided up into specific locations and you received a permit each day for a particular location. So, in order to get the prime locations, my roommate and I would have to get up around 5:30 a.m. and drive down to the Park and wait outside the office door for a couple of hours until we got our permits. Then, we'd return home, sleep a bit, then head back down to the Park to work for the rest of the afternoon.

I met more amazing people working there.

Dave, I would say that that is pretty good money, particularly if you are earning that yourself. If that is the amount for an entire group, it is still a good take. Back in the late 1970's, it wasn't at all unusual for me to go to Munich for the weekend and earn about 500DM, which was pretty good in that that was about half of our monthly rent.

13

Haven't caught much in Philly, but then again I'm mostly driving around town there for some unknown reason. But over the years I've always heard a guy in Philly who plays recorder. You wouldn't think much of a street musician on a recorder, but this guy has really pure tone, great volume and breath control. He is fabulous... you can literally hear him blocks away.

Looking forward to seeing more and more great buskers now that I'm working up in NYC for a while and walking the streets or riding the subway. Saw some bluegrassers the other night, they sounded pretty good -- ran into them twice at different stations in the same evening. Hoping to see more and more as the weather turns warmer.

Once in London I encountered a busker in the tube who had me floored with his rendition of Nilsson's "Everybody's Talkin' " -- I stayed the whole song through and learned the chords on the spot watching him.

Paris was maybe the best for street and subway musicians of all stripes. Tons of gypsy guitar players and accordionists, some great, some so-so. Jazz and classical, a bit of rock and roll too. Fewer singers. But there was one woman in the Paris metro that had this angelic voice, I don't think I'll never forget her. Saw her at least twice that summer -- she always performed a capella. She sang Beatles somehow better than the Beatles if that's at all possible.

14

"...She sang Beatles somehow better than the Beatles if that's at all possible. " - Redrocker

In Paris, it's all about the girl.

15

Here in New York some really amazing musicians playing in subways and streets. A lot of Latino music, flamenco, jazz, bluegrass, some really cool New Orleans horn bands. I can't recall any names right now, but sure remember some of the great jazz cats started out by playing subways in NYC

16

crowbone, I love that guitar in your avatar. Can you explain it. I the design carved?

17

Dave, I would say that that is pretty good money, particularly if you are earning that yourself. If that is the amount for an entire group, it is still a good take.

That is usually split between 7 or 8 of us, but if we were doing it for the cash I suspect we could get the same sort of income with 4 or 5. Getting a good pitch is vital. That Friday before Xmas is one of the busiest shopping days of the year in the UK, and we park ourselves right in the middle of one of Manchester's busiest shopping streets (Market St). We've never sought a permit, although I gather that we should. It has never caused us problems though. The only time the police get is upset is if the crowds stand around to watch and it starts to block people's progress. Easily cured with a 2 minute break.

The core four guys play in an Irish band together and one of the side benefits is that they'll always sell a stack of CDs and regularly get three or four wedding/party bookings, so for anyone heading out, don't forget to pack a bag of merch and business cards.

18

Many of my favorite current bands from New Orleans started out as buskers or still regularly do. I have been going to down to French Quarter fest the last few years and a lot the busking is as good as stage acts in the festival. I did an all acoustic hot jazz and blues band fo rthe last two years and last year got to busk for the first time anywhere in NOLA with a few band mates and it was a blast. We started doing it often last summer in Southern OR. Now that I'm in Ventura I've seen a few lone performers in downtown there. Hopping to eventually get a new act together to busk there. And I'm booked to return to FQ fest with the singer and horn player from my former band again.

My favorite NOLA Band Tuba Skinny busking on Royal about where I ran into them for the first time 3 years ago.

http://www.youtube.com/watc...

Meschiya Lake with Loose Marbles, she plays mostly clubs now with her own band The Little Big Horns.

http://www.youtube.com/watc...

And me last april. http://www.youtube.com/watc...

19

crowbone, I love that guitar in your avatar. Can you explain it. I the design carved?

– Bob Howard

Two things wrong with it.

It's lacking a Bigsby.

It's not mine.

Shot at NAMM last year, I think.

22

Chicago seems to have pretty strict rules regarding street performance, and a $100 permit is required per performer even if playing in a group. Sort of discouraging to know that you could be fined $300 for performing without a permit, playing on certain stretches of Michigan ave, playing in or on the sidewalk around Millennium park ect.

That said, I don't know how strictly the rules are enforced. Seems like a lot of fuss over something that should be fun and enjoyable.


Register Sign in to join the conversation