Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Sweet Spot: An Essay on the Perfect, Perfect Busk

First off, the BUSKOLOGIST stop sign presented on the left is the latest addition for my banjitar case when I'm on a busk. Just this week it was created by my colleague, Chris, an avid reader of this blog, who unwittingly delivered it in the nick of time! (And it shall be placed right alongside my usual two signs on display, one being the stickman logo of the Canadian Mental Health Association, and the other, a replication of my blog header --both of which created by one of my very favorite people, Lynn Hill.)

It was to be a perfect busking day. The air was windless and a plus 25 (80 degrees), and, the sun was shining brightly. Trent (from Trent’s Guitar Studio in Regina, Sk), Daussen (the adolescent fiddle phenom), and myself (an ordinary strummer & buskologist) were to form a busking trio at the annual Dragon Boat Festival.

Trent drove up to my apartment at exactly twelve o’clock as planned. He had packed his guitarlele and I tossed my banjitar and twelve-string next to it in the trunk of his car. The guitarlele and guitar strings in combo with Daussen’s fiddle, we’d decided, would make for some very sweet sounds.

Trent and I scouted the boardwalk and promenade along the north shore of Wascana Lake in search of the best busking spot. Back and forth we walked from west to east, from east to west along the mercantile line, to no avail.

On the grassy swards just above the boardwalk a constellation of merchants were selling their wares. Include in that line was an outdoor beer gardens complete with live music. Right next to the beer gardens was a bandshell. It, too, was producing live music. Half a dozen electronic speakers hung all along the walkways, piping out the live music and also the megaphone results of the dragon boat races.

Within ten minutes we exited. We sought greener busking pastures in downtown Victoria Park. There, we played a bit, made a bit, then ventured over to the Fred Hill Centre, just a three minute walk from the park. Dustin Ritter (a guitar student of Trent’s and a university student of mine) was playing the live stage. Good for him and bad for us. Dustin dedicated a song to us whilst we vamoosed to our next busk spot.

We drove to the South Albert Liquor Store. Neither Trent nor I had ever busked in front of a liquor store. Alas, it, too, was occupied with what appeared to be a high school girls’ group soliciting funds (via panhandling) for their European band trip.

Our last destination was the Extra Foods shopping mall on Broadway Avenue. (By this time, Daussen had been long delayed due to a broken fiddle string and by the time he found another to replace it, he decided to jettison his busking for the day.) In the middle of the mall lot, we set up, Trent with his guitarlele, and I with my twelve-string.

This is our sweet spot, said Trent after we'd performed for approximately five minutes.

This plummy parking lot was, indeed, our sweet spot for that day, as we enjoyed lots of smiles and coins from our customers, and lots of laughs between ourselves.

In the sports world the sweet spot connotes some aspect of a player’s technique, the perfect swing for example. Golfers and batters and tennis players are always striving for that perfect straight elbow, eye on the ball perfect swing, a sweet spot so to speak.

In the busker world, the sweet spot refers to much more than a technical sports swing, which could be likened to performance. The sweet spot for buskers refers more to a lifestyle, including the tactical aspect of being in a certain place, and the serious theoretical aspect of having a purpose.

In a line, a busker’s sweet spot is dependent upon all three: performance, place, and purpose.

Performance is based on mastery of your musical skills. When you have practiced, practiced, practiced enough to be comfortable and confident to play some tunes that are recognizable, you are ready for busking. I’ve settled on about a dozen songs for banjitar busking. My not-so-secret formula is to play mostly original tunes and a few familiar tunes, at a very fast cadence, seemingly more suited for banjo-like presentation. This works for me. When I’ve a buskmate, I thrum on my twelve-string.

Place is based on experience. After you’ve been busking a hundred or so times you’ll know the times and places of your preferred crowds. On buskations in Victoria, British Columbia, I simply follow the cruise ships schedules. Approximately an hour after the ship’s arrival and its passengers pass through customs is the time to hit the streets strumming. Also, I've varied buskingdoms right in Regina, Saskatchewan: the new downtown Plaza, the Extra Foods parking lot, and the 13th Avenue Safeway store.

The main purpose for busking is income; cause and enjoyment are but ancillary components. Generally, busking can bring in a few bucks, fifty or so dollars a day, on a three to four hour work schedule. If more money is needed, then more busking hours are necessary. In the right crowd upwards of sixty dollars an hour is within strum reach. In sparse crowds, the same amounts of monies can be made, but it just takes longer.

My sweetness for busking comes from income, cause, and enjoyment. By my design, in Summer I’ve rarely any counseling or teaching contracts. I love busking enough, it seems, to do without a regular paycheque July through September. The more money tossed into my banjitar case allows me more luxurious days of Americano Decaf. I gig a few select times, but busking is my main source of sustenance in Summer.

Also I busk for cause. These past couple months I’ve done some busking for the Canadian Mental Health Association, Amnesty International, and SEARCH (Student Energy in Action for Regina Community Health).

And of course, I busk for enjoyment. Before strumming my banjitar for the SEARCH barbeque this afternoon, I was, in fact, this morning busking on the street corner.

And this week a couple of characters marching in my Chaucerian Parade:

  • the grumpy old man who insisted that I ought to park his shopping cart for the quarter return
  • the smiling lady who handed me a fin just for encouraging her to keep up with her piano lessons

Busking seems to satisfy my wanderlust nature -- even if I stay in the neighborhood!

1 comment:

  1. Are there places to plug in a small p.a. system in victoria park? Years ago I had a cheap guitar amp and a mic and made $75.00 in an hour or so. I'm thinking of heading back there this summer. Just need a place to plug in.