Sunday, July 10, 2011

Phat Chances: An Essay on the Skinny of Busking Preparedness

It was a drizzmal grey, raining, and windy Friday. Only because it was at least warm, we, being my buskbud Trent and myself, decided to go for a downtown busk with our banjitars. Unlike guitars, banjitars are pretty much bullet proof, and cannot be damaged by light rain. Our definitive costume apparel was to be jeans and crisp collared long-sleeved shirts. Trent wore sky blue; I wore cloud white. Trent was hatless; I had a tam.

Predictably, the drizzle thinned the crowd. Clusters of people just scurried by, dashing in and out of the rain, paying no attention to us. For the better part of that noon hour we thrummed to nobody.

It's a good practice run, said Trent.

And then the sun shone! For a glorious twenty minutes the people passing were lavish, even stopping to listen. Our busk pot became the shining pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

In a line – We got phat.

Fellow buskers, such phatness is not the product of happenchance; it is the product of hard yakka. If you want to get phat, here is the skinny of performance preparedness:

  • Be patient. Life is comprised of a million fillips. It takes time to develop a particular busking style. Only after a dozen buskapades can one realize what busking is really all about. Trent and I have been busk buddies on several occasions in different venues over the years. We've gone busking with two guitars. We've gone busking with one guitar and a banjitar. Lately we've gone with two banjitars. Trent just purchased a mandolin-guitar. Perhaps he'll pack that along for our next busk.
  • Be persistent. Busking is hard, hard yakka. It is always easier not to (just fill in whatever). Sometimes the weather will just not cooperate. Sometimes you have to decide that rain or shine, you've got to go. It may mean you'll be packing an umbrella, or seeking a sheltered pitch. Whatever your need, just do it.
  • Be practical. I'm a strummer; Trent is a ringer. (Trent owns/manages/teaches at Trent's Guitar Studio in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.) The efforts and rewards of busking are always input versus output. When busking with Trent, since I'm just a strummer, my job is to strum the principle rhythms. Trent is a ringer, and so his job is to pluck-and-pick impromptu intricate melodies in the backdrop. Not surprisingly, we've been told time and time again on every busk, that we sound awesome.
  • Be positive. Where there is yin there is yang. And there is yin and yang on every busk. Every pitch is a buskapade, a Chaucerian parade of characters about to be met. Anticipate adventure. Learn to sing in the yin and strum on the yang.

  • Be purposeful. Guiding principles are essential for busking. We created B2 solely for the purpose of busking. B2 is the acronym for both Buskers 2 and Banjitars 2. Being a member of B2 means creating a duo persona over a prescribed period of time (two hours tops). This is our purpose, and on a busk we behave accordingly.

After my buskapade last week (I wrote about the bad vibes I received from a couple of vendors), I feel compelled to give a pitch for some very welcoming marketeers from this week's Farmers' Market: the forever sweet trio of Darlene and Kaelyn and John (A Fudge Above the Rest), the always affable and florapheliac Jordan (Sacred Earth), and my newest fructuous vendor friend, David (Pure T Organics). And I must give more than an honorable mention to the downtown ambassadors who spread goodwill and public relations to both the downtown and the Farmers' markets. It is people such as these that make the art and craft of busking fun!

And my Chaucerian Parade of characters this week are:

  • The Preacher Man who stole the show with his in-the-rain-on-a-pedestal declamation at the downtown market mall

  • The two young and buffed and not-so-friendly police officers on foot patrol at the same downtown market mall at that same time as the Preacher Man.

I thought they were going to arrest you guys! said one of our listeners to Trent and me.

Those guys are not friendly, stated one of the student downtown ambassadors.

  • The Preacher Man who again stole the show with his second sermonation within my earshot, this time squaring off with the amplified guitar busker at the Farmers' Market. I must confess to experiencing some schadenfraude in this situation, especially in light of my last week misery at the market.

  • The young police officer called in to calm the Preacher Man and convince him to leave the stage. This police officer was friendly ... and smiled!

I remind buskers that our fortunes are based in our buskingdoms. It is precisely these kinds of interpersonal interactions that keeps our buskingdoms ever adventurous, for we know that on any given pitch we never really know what is going to happen in any moments next. Being a busker means having the courage to actually be among our customers.

Busking is that callithumping heart beat, that real life relationship pounding between performer and customer.

1 comment:

  1. Great post Neil. Hope to see and hear you on a busk soon!