The sidewalk blues

Walk down any main street in Toronto and you’re bound to encounter at least a couple of people trying to entertain the pedestrians scurrying past. For these performers it’s not like a band night at a local bar, they have no built-in, captive audience wanting to be entertained. It’s the busker’s job to lure a crowd. If he doesn’t, whose fault is it, the inattentive audience or the mediocre musician?

The answer is both. Professional curbside entertainers (like the folks at this past August’s Buskerfest on Front Street) are veritable ringleaders whose social magnetism lets them easily rake together a cheering crowd with pocketbooks a-bursting. For instance, punk magician Dylan Studebaker doesn’t sit back quietly waiting for people to admire his magic tricks. He draws attention to himself using his natural (and loud) showmanship, and keeps the audience by involving them in his David Blaine-esque magic while entertaining them with his sense of humour.

He puts the onus on himself to grab and keep the affections of Torontonians, but the majority of buskers are not of this breed. Most are solo musicians or small ensembles that place an empty case at their feet and simply depend on the kindness of strangers. And while we Torontonians will generally come through for these performers in a monetary sense (especially if they employ some interesting instrumentation), far too few of us seem inclined to stop and actually listen.

In Europe buskers are so well respected that tour guides often show them off to their passengers. Studebaker, who has taken his show on the road a number of times, has witnessed the difference, and the excitement in his voice gets even more hyper when he is asked about the response overseas. ??

Leave a Reply