Sunday, January 20, 2013


I reside on the sixth floor of a downtown high-rise.  It is minus 25 degrees and I’m looking down onto the street from my kitchen window.  Again today I am waxing philosophical because again today … I am not going busking!

The street I am looking down upon (no pun intended) is Victoria Avenue, a busker’s paradise.  Right next door to where I live is the very hip, Crave Kitchen and Wine Bar.  Right next to Crave is the traditional Golf’s Steak House.  Across the intersection is the busy, busy Atlantis Coffee.  And next door to that, the brand new Flip Eatery and Drink, and next to that, purportedly the best pizza in town, Copper Kettle Gourmet Pizza.  Just a block down and still on Victoria Avenue is the elegant Radisson Plaza Hotel Saskatchewan, and across from it, Regina’s jewel, Victoria Park.

Crave has an emerging adult to middle-age cliental; Golf’s has a middle-age to senior consumer; Atlantis has a mix; Flip has a the thirty-something patrons; Copper Kettle caters to everyone; the benches in Victoria Park care not in the least who sit upon them – entire families throughout the day, the downtown office drones at lunchtime, the druggies in the evening.

One would think that given the setting where I live, that the busking would be simple.  And it is.  But, as we buskers know, busking can often be simple but never easy (and easy and simple are certainly not synonyms).  Getting to any of these buskspots is a simple saunter up the sidewalk.  Playing at any of these buskspots demands playing for a purpose, a mercenary focus, and of course, public singing.
The most difficult aspect of busking is public singing.  

Here are some tips on overcoming the anxiety of singing on the sidewalk, for the public passers-by:

Know what you are going to sing. Keep in mind that buskers have the power to sing only what they want their audiences to hear.  These could be show tunes, top forty pop songs, or originals.  We buskers are completely in charge of our song lists.  My preference is to sing original songs only because then … my singing and my songs cannot be compared to those on the public program that are already in place.

Know who your audience is.  If I’m singing in front of Crave or Golf’s, my tunes are slow and folksy, never rammy nor edgy.  If I’m singing betwixt Flip and Copper Kettle, I tend to sing the same tunes as those at Crave and Golf’s.  In Victoria Park I quite vary the tempos according to who might be listening, slow during the day, faster in the evening.

Create flow. Play and sing in themes of cadence -- rhythmic beats, varied voice inflections, and the like. I remind you that whenever I am busking I am always just practicing, practicing, practicing.  For exactly what I am practicing for I’m not sure.  My busking, I guess, could be rehearsals for indoor winter gigs, or could be rehearsals for just the next busk.  For whatever it is for, I practice different strums and thrums, different ranges on my vocals, I practice different hums on the didge, different blows on the harmonica, and different styles of whistling.  You can never go wrong by varying the instrumentation (I go guitar, banjitar, didgeridoo, and accordion) and the delivery of such.  Playing harmonica along with strumming a guitar does, in my mind, represent the quintessential busker.

Present style.  You need style.  Clean up and costume up.  Cap-a-pie as a cowboy I am under a cowboy hat, sporting a crisp cowboy shirt and blue jeans, and stomping polished cowboy boots.  As a folk singer I am of ruffled hair, white long-sleeved or t-shirt, faded jeans, work boots or sandals. Droning into my didge I present the folk look, and picking my banjitar I often wear a bowler or tam, never a cowboy hat.

Bring closure. When it is time to wrap and your desired outcome has been accomplished, wrap it up!  Desired outcomes may vary.  Perhaps you just want to enjoy a sunny day.  Some days in summer are just meant to be lazy.  On days as these, I wander down to the park, my guitar slung over shoulder; find a spot, and play, play, play.  On such lazy days whether or not I make much money doesn’t seem to matter (though I always do make money).

Perhaps you want to make fifty dollars, or a hundred dollars.  Most times when I busk it is a mercenary mission.  I know I’m going to make between 35 and 50 dollars per hour but … I have only the stamina to go for one hour.  Since this is the case, once I’ve made fifty dollars, I exit.  If I go longer than one hour, I do so in a two-part, first over the lunch hour and then again during the supper hour.  Sometimes I busk for one hour, have an American decaf break for half an hour, then busk another hour.     

Perhaps you’ve been asked to busk at a certain place for a certain period of time.  This happens frequently.  I’ve been asked to busk at a few places for certain events, the SASKATCHEWAN SCHIZOPHRENIA SOCIETY SCAVENGER HUNT, SEARCH Saturday barbeques, mental health promotion months at SHOPPERS DRUG MART, to name a few.

Perhaps you’re just bored.  Or perhaps you need to practice.

Only one character is marching in my Chaucerian Parade this week -- the fellow who paid for my groceries (twenty dollars’ worth!) at SHOPPERS DRUG MART. 

I was at the SHOPPERS DRUG MART counter paying for some items when a busking regular consumer of mine pounded on the window from the outside signaling for me to halt, then he rushed in to pay for my stuff (he knew I’d just finished busking and he missed me).

However, there are many,many marchers in the Canadian political a-go-go current events parade, Chief Theresa Spence and Prime Minister Stephen Harper being in front.  Here’s the scoop:

IDLE NO MORE movement began in Saskatchewan, Canada.  Four women, Nina Wilson, Sylvia McAdam, Jessica Gordon, and Sheelah McLean, decided to take action to prevent certain federal legislation from passing.  These four women were especially concerned with the environmental and water protection policies being obfuscated by the Feds.

Much to the chagrin of these four women (I’m sure), and much to the delight of the ruling Conservative Party of Canada (I'm sure), the news media chose the face of Theresa Spence, homiletic Chief of Attawapiskat, to symbolize the IDLE NO MORE movement.  

Chief Spence, with open arms willingly jumped into the spot light, but adding some concerns of her own: nation-to-nation relationships honoring the treaties, impoverished living conditions, and chronic under-funding of First Nations. She even demanded that both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Governor General David Johnston, together at the same time, meet with her personally.  When that didn’t happen in the way she had imagined, she wrote a letter to the Queen of England, asking for her support.

And too bad for Chief Spence and her myrmidons that the stage light in which she was basking also shone on her myriad of problems from last year – 104 million of them to be exact.

Some impotent (not to be mistaken for important) hoity-toity players, too, have taken the stage this past week.  Former Prime Minister Paul Martin and former Governor General Michelle Jean have called upon Chief Spence to end her protest fast (did I mention that Chief Spence is on a hunger strike to further her cause).  Meanwhile, back in First Nations country, the Assembly of First Nations National Chief, Shawn Atleo, has taken a stress leave.

IDLE NO MORE members have blocked rail lines in northern British Columbia, have slowed traffic the movement of traffic at Ambassador Bridge on the Ontario border between Canada and the United States, and have blocked the very busy highway between Calgary and Edmonton in Alberta.

IDLE NO MORE is not going away anytime soon.  Some facts and fixes:

Fact: IDLE NO MORE has gone from the collective ideology of four Saskatchewanians to the single face of Chief Theresa Spence.
Fact: IDLE NO MORE has gone from First Nation environmental concerns to First Nation under-funding concerns. 
Fact: The Prime Minister, the Governor General, and the Queen are choosing not to dance to the drum beats of Chief Spence.
Fact: Even Shawn Atleo has exited himself from the situation.
Fact: Idle No More began as a good fight.
Fact: None of Chief Spence’s followers have read this blog on public singing.

Fix:  Chief Perry Bellegarde (another Saskatchewanian) is always the political voice of reason. 
Fix:  Chief Bellegarde will read my aforementioned tips on public singing and come to the rescue.

I know what I’m talking about.  Here are some newly created Aesopian lyrics to fit into my summer busking -- I have yet to decide on the chords:

Because they buy at the marketplace
The designer still designs,
The kings and queens send out decrees,
The professors speak hypotheses,
The preachers promise saving grace,
The presidents search in outer space,
Only buskers see the human race
Because they buy at the marketplace ...
Because they buy at the marketplace

Fellow buskers ... 
Keep your feet on the street, your ear to the wind, and keep buying at the marketplace!


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