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arts, lifestyle

How To Earn Money on the Street

Oh! Not THAT way.


I’m talking about busking. Are you a busker?

A busker, according to buskercentral.com, is a person who performs an art in public places for donations of money. They have been known as many things throughout history: troubadours, minstrels, bards. They appear in a variety of forms: street singers, sidewalk artists, fortune tellers, mimes, folk musicians, organ grinders, acrobats, street theater troupes, jugglers, stilt walkers, and living statues.

Lots of now famous people got their start on the streets:

  • Benjamin Franklin (yes THAT Benjamin Franklin) went out into the streets and recited the poetry and prose he wrote about the days current events. Kind of like a living newspaper.
  • Josephine Baker, who was more famous in France as part of the Follies Bergerre , got her start street dancing in St. Louis.
  • Rod Stewart began as a folk singer, entertaining folks all over Europe.
  • The Violent Femmes were busking on the corner in front of a theater where the Pretenders were performing. Chrissie Hynde invited them to play a set before the show, and the rest, as they say …
  • Ketch Secor, whose group Old Crow Medicine Show started with busking and remains committed to it, has said: “People … have short attention spans. … So if you can get ’em to stop … if you can get ’em to listen with a song, then you’ve got yourself a keeper.” (wikipedia.com)
  • George Michael started out busking by singing songs made famous by the group Queen.
  • Peter Mulvey was a busker in the Boston subway, where he recorded an entire album.
  • Tracy Chapman hung out in Harvard Square before she hit it big.

Busking has gone from being accepted, to being vilified, to being almost accepted again. Sources have recorded incidents of street performance since antiquity. (there’s a great word, maybe in the next post….) It was a normal method of employment, especially for traveling performers, including Troubadours, Gypsies, Tinkers, and the Medicine Shows of America.

Laws against it go back to ancient Rome, mostly pertaining to speaking against the government. Laws protecting it have also been made, including issuing permits for performances.  Sometimes these permits are difficult and expensive to obtain. That’s why websites such as Busking Central and The Busking Project have been created.

Busker festivals have been a good place to see street acts. It also gives the performers a sense of security and acceptance. From the country fairs in medieval times to the hippy “Be-ins” of the 1960’s, to sanctioned festivals in cities all over the world today, buskers can find safety in numbers and we can find fantastic artists.

Unfortunately, performing in this manner is quite risky these days.  Even though buskers are basically covered under free speech protection, the United States has not been kind to them. When they find a “pitch, ” a viable spot to perform, they are constantly looking over their shoulder, so to speak, watching for the police. Some places encourage busking, but alas, many places frown on these artists.

For artists they are, working on their craft by live performance, honing skills and improving audience repartee. Many are funny as well as talented, and you would do yourself a favor to spend a pleasant lunch hour in their company.

There are movies, recordings, and YouTube videos of buskers, but the best place to experience this unique entertainment is out on the street. The next time you see a busker, do them a  courtesy and stop to listen or watch. Even if you don’t feel like contributing to their livelihood, as least they will know that they are worthy of admiration.


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Thanks for reading!

About ejgresearch

As soon as I retired I hit the road. I am now a nomad traveling the USA in a minivan. This blog is my travelogue / journal about those travels.


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