Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Bruno Buskation: An Essay on the Joys of Rustic Busking

A cherry pit spitting contest and an orchard tour. A wandering gypsy, some cowboy poetry, and a country supper of breaded turkey cutlets with sour cherry black forest cake for dessert. These were among the many attractions at the Annual Cherry Festival in Bruno, Saskatchewan. Baron decided to bring only his cajon drum and I decided to pack both my twelve string and my banjitar.

We were instructed to busk anywhere along the narrow lane that connected the back curtilage to the Mission courtyard, amongst the midway of purple and white patio markets that were peddling elephant ears, jams and jellies, honey oils and ointments, lotions, leathers, ladies hats, and soda pop. The constant parade of would-be-buyers included little children running back and forth with vanilla ice cream dripping from their chins, laughing ladies dressed in jeans or shorts, men cap-a-pie in cowboy hats and cowboy boots. As stereotypical as this presents, as further empirical evidence I shall include the several happy young couples pushing baby strollers.

It was dog day hot and we decided to play in the shade, right alongside the sweet heart Senior Girls Volleyball booth. Baron and I sipped chocolate mint oolong tea to help us keep cool. This worked, though we could never get so frosty as our kitty-corner neighbor selling wooden birdhouses in the shapes of farmyard barns and prairie grain elevators.

Don't you ever get tired of playing that thing, he roiled after I'd asked him how many birdhouses he built in a year. (This tete-a-tete took place near the beginning of our busk and I can still see the glower in his eye! The thing he was referring to was my banjitar!)

Regardless of this particular exchange, our busking day in Bruno provided mostly sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows. Here are some of the highlights in olla podrida fashion:

  • the very warm welcome we received from the Bruno Cherry Festival coordinator
  • the home-made burgers and ice cold cokes we had for snunch
  • the other two buskers: a local lad with a finger gift on guitar, and Miles Happy Feet Howe, the next-to-famous busker who hails from Nanaimo, British Columbia (google him -- he's great!)
  • the elderly gentleman who was enthralled with my banjitar (he used to play in a band and we chatted on and off for an hour or so)
  • the musicians who stopped to chat on their way to and from the live main stage (I was even invited to join a band whose banjo player dropped dead just a few days after a gig at the same cherry festival a year ago!)
  • the girl in the booth next door who requested a few songs and then sang them while I strummed on my twelve string
  • the staff volunteers who took the moment to give us a smile
  • the staff member who tossed two fins into my banjitar case
  • the consumers who stopped to chat

(and the one I shall forever remember)

  • that darling little girl who tossed a flower into my banjitar case

My Bruno busk unpredictably ended similar to the way it began. With approximately a half hour left of scheduled play, I was instructed by the festival coordinator to wrap it up because some of my hawking neighbors complained that I had been playing the one same song all day long, and they were tired of it. I am guessing that he was referring to one neighbor especially, since all the rest were ever friendly and took the time to thank me for coming out and supporting their cause. As for the complaint about my playing just one song -- I strummed a play list of more than twenty songs that I had specifically selected for occasion. (Upon reflection, I strummed all of the tunes on the clamorous banjitar, and I do agree that this could have been quite disconcerting -- but what the hey, I was busking!)

Introspection of this particular experience has taught me a lesson or two about busking in general. I should have saved my Promethean antics for the urban audience (meaning I should have curbed my banjitar playing). City crowds see lots of different busking acts on any given day and therefore expect variety (sometimes shine over shoe if need be); whereas members of the rural audience may demand only sincerity and quality (typically more shoe over shine).

In qualitative Psychology, a counterpattern is the necessary behavior from which to gauge and make other actions and consequences believable. For example, when university instructor evaluations are collated, the negative comments made by students are considered counterpatterns, thereby lending a greater degree of credibility to the positive comments. (And vice versa, should the negative responses significantly outweigh the positive ones!) So then, to attach some pragmatic value to my cranky neighbor's comments, they were very necessary and therefore a welcome counterpattern from which to offer recompense and truth value to my aforementioned positive Bruno busking highlights!

And so, if you are the city mouse planning to visit your country cousin and make some music; if you are a city slicker planning to sing for the country set, take heed. Most members of your rural audience will know one another (a scenario not likely to happen in the city) and, therefore, have the potential to publicly lobby 'for' or 'agin' your performance. If they are 'for' you, life is good; if they are 'agin' you, look out.

My Bruno experience was fanciful, whimsical, and the lesson learned, invaluable. (When going to San Francisco wear flowers; when going to Bruno wear a guitar.) Perception is everything. Though I felt wrongly accused, I now know the skinny: I should have performed more of a mix.

I thought I would wow the country crowd with novelty --
instead I bored them with monotony.