When it comes to live music, nothing beats busking. No concert halls, no promotion, just a love for music and a lively street corner.
“It’s lots of fun to watch the people enjoy our music,” states 12-year-old Seth in regards to he and his ten-year-old sister Janna’s monthly busking performances at the Calgary Farmer’s Market.
The youthful musicians have each been playing fiddle-style music for half of their lives, and their talent has become a family affair.
Janna and Seth’s father, Tim Nemeth, explains that both children are home-schooled and are part of a “family band” that entertains at senior’s centers and jamborees throughout the year.
James Cunningham plays his accordion on a beautiful day in Prince’s Island Park.
Photo: Nicolle Amyotte/Calgary Journal
While honing talents publicly is a lot of work, Janna and Seth enjoy busking, and Nemeth appreciates the opportunity it brings for them, the chance to be “paid to practice.”
The Calgary Farmers’ Market lends support to buskers young and old in their endeavors.
“It’s about supporting the community and our vendors,” explains Michelle Rhyason, director of operations for the Farmers’ Market. “Customers love the live music. We have people who have been playing for 25 years, and we have kids who are just starting out and want to get some practice playing in front of crowds.
“It adds a lot of atmosphere and a lot of energy.”
She points out that it is not uncommon for patrons to spend several hours in the marketplace, socializing and soaking up the sights and sounds.
In scenic Prince’s Island Park, it is common to see a busker in action drawing in crowds.
A city bylaw allows busking in only a few locations. Prince’s Island and other city parks are allowable, as are Kensington, Eau Claire, select C-Train stations, and the Stephen Avenue walk.
Prince’s Island has quite recently become a favorite place to James Cunningham, who identifies himself with a cheerful smile, an upbeat accordion and vocal performance, and a sign reading “buskerjames.”
Cunningham is the father of a family of performers, having raised children who also busk.
As Cunningham’s namesake son explains: “He’ll be out here every day. He’s disabled, so he can’t really work. So, this is what he does for entertainment. He loves it.”
Jack FM’s 2010 Busker Idol champion, Chris Gheran, feels that buskers in Calgary add a certain “atmosphere to the whole”.
“It’s kind of an essential thing,” he said. “As long as cities have been around, there’s been buskers. It’s nice to give people the opportunity to make money with their art or playing music they’ve learned, rather than just pumping in radio.”
He also feels that city bylaws regarding busking freedoms are fair.
“From what I’ve seen, the areas that they pick to let buskers play are pretty good areas, they’re the areas you’d wanna play anyway,” he said. “But then you have to designate spots so that you just don’t have, like, 80 buskers down each side of the road. The licenses make sense to me, so you don’t just get crack heads out there slamming their hand on a keyboard.”
Gheran has busked and understands the small pleasures that go along with it. “It’s sweet when you see a toonie inside your case.”
The market, the parks, and anywhere else that will have them are truly a busker’s concert hall.