Believed to derive from the Spanish verb “buscar” (to look for), buskers’ sounds and styles may not appeal to everyone, and certainly not all are talented. Nevertheless, street musicians are an old, global tradition.
Buskers can make a downtown a lot more appealing; the plethora of street musicians during Ellensburg’s annual blues festival comes to mind — like a giant, free outdoor concert. Open guitar cases aside, buskers seek more than money. It’s also about perfecting the craft, developing an audience. And who knows? They just may get discovered.
Buskers are part of the tourist draw for many famous cities, from Seattle to New York and Rome to Dublin. New Zealand hosts the 10-day World Buskers Festival, attracting hundreds of thousands to Christchurch each summer.
So if you missed Friday’s front page, the city of Coeur d’Alene is in fine company as it considers noise and other parameters for buskers. As is Jesse Warburton, a former Sandpoint busker who asked the city to set them. While I admit that a few — such as one in Nelson, B.C., who reminded me of a screeching hyena — sound just awful, many famous names began as buskers.
Robin Williams was a mime outside New York’s Museum of Modern Art; people tended to avoid him (while a cash-starved student at Julliard).
Rod Stewart sang folk songs and slept under bridges across Europe, until he was deported from Spain as a vagrant.
Eddie Izzard rode a unicycle and did a handcuff trick in London streets (while studying accounting); he said it drained his confidence, but taught him how to play a crowd.
Traci Chapman and her guitar were regulars in Harvard Square (while a student at Tufts University); she was soon discovered by a record label.
Riley B. (a.k.a. “B.B.”) King busked up to four Mississippi towns a night.
Pierce Brosnan performed a fire-eating act in London streets, where he was discovered by a circus agent.
Bernie Mac spent two years telling jokes in Chicago’s south side, outside.
Jewel dazzled countless streets from Michigan to Mexico.
Just so this list doesn’t leave the impression that busking is new, consider Ben Franklin. Yes, that Ben Franklin. Long before he signed the Declaration of Independence, he busked in Boston, singing songs and reciting his own poetry. His embarrassed father eventually shut him down; perhaps that’s what generated his passion for free speech, tuneless or otherwise.
Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network whose singing is so bad she could only be paid not to. Contact her at Sholeh@cdapress.com.