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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
reggie miles Busking etiquette (64* d) RE: Busking etiquette 13 Jan 11


I have never heard of the custom of an off duty busker offering a donation to another performer as being an insult but I'm a youngster in all of this sort of stuff. I've only been at it since the late 70s. I would think of it as just the opposite. If one artist supports another, it is a show of respect for their skills and talents, just as when anyone else supports this form of entertainment. Of course, there are certainly as many reasons to support those who choose to entertain in this fashion as there are those who enjoy it.

I find that the opportunity to perform in this manner has helped me to develop my abilities as a songwriter, a guitarist, a singer, a sawplayer, an entertainer, a comic, a storyteller... The experience has allowed me to grow in every aspect of what I enjoy doing in my varied pursuits along this musical path. While not without it's difficulties, I've found street performing to be an extremely positive and supportive exploration.

I could not possibly list all of compliments that I've received from those who have enjoyed listening to me play. I'm not saying that I don't receive the occasional taunt from someone who either doesn't take the time to truly lend an ear to what I'm offering. I do. Occasionally, I even get mean spirited remarks offered, right to my face, from those who would just like to see me move along. I received one of the worst of these just last Thursday.

Every first Thursday evening, the Seattle area has an art gallery walk. Galleries, throughout most of the area, actively invite the public to come out to enjoy the new shows that they feature. The weather was tolerable last Thursday, for January in Seattle, so I went to one area of the city where I knew that there might be folks around to entertain during the event. Before I could even set up to play I was confronted by a woman who had some connection with one of the galleries, near where I was considering the idea of offering my music. I hadn't even opened my guitar case at that point, as she began to direct me away from where I had thought about playing. I could tell by her insistent tone that she was fearful of me and what she imagined that I might offer. It was clear that she felt that I might be a bad reflection on her scene and didn't want me near her space.

First she tried to tell how much the galleries enjoyed the entertainers that played outdoors during the art walk. Then, she tried to feed me erroneous information regarding where the public space of the city park that I was in began and ended. I courteously corrected her misinformation and explained where the private property line ended and public space actually began. She disappeared back into her gallery. I decided to not antagonize her and set up in the pace that she explained was where she wanted me to sit. However, this move to placate her fears didn't keep her from behaving poorly toward me.

There weren't many folks out in the park area. It was a little cool to just be out strolling and the galleries in the area offered warmth bright lights and probably even something to snack on while checking out the show. So, most folks were inside. I'm used to the emptiness of the streets and went ahead with my plan to offer some music. I decided to warm up with some melodies with my musical saw. As I only play slower paced melodies, I thought that this style of music might be in keeping with what is usually supported by gallery folk during show openings.

I should explain, that not every temperature range is ideally suited to musical saw playing. Being a large flat piece of steel, a saw will easily be affected by whatever temperature in which it finds itself. So, some environs make playing tougher than others. That evening, the temperature wasn't ideal but having played in enough varying temperature ranges, I was doing my best to compensate.

The woman from the gallery, while out of sight, had apparently not given up in her effort to move me along. After a few musical saw melodies and while no one else was in earshot, she came over to where I was playing to deliver a string of belittling and criticizing remarks, the likes of which I have never received from anyone ever before. I knew why she was doing it. I merely looked up at her as I played, offering no response. It's upsetting to have someone treat you that way. If I had not received so many other positive and supportive comments regarding my musical sawplaying, over the many years that I've dedicated to the pursuit of this folk art, I would have been crushed by her abusive remarks.

I know from these many years at offering this particular folk art, that some folks, though very small in number, simply cannot respond well to the sound that a saw can produce. I have no actual scientific data or research to prove this, just my observations after years of exposing many hundreds of thousands to the sound that a saw can create when bowed. I can't be certain whether this woman, who confronted me, was one of those folks or not but she was upset with my decision to play.

Thankfully, here in Seattle and throughout the region, we have the right to offer our talents in public spaces. It's called freedom of expression and is a guaranteed protected right under the First Amendment of our Constitution. She certainly was within her right to not support my efforts but she took that right one step further than she really needed to do, by offering her negative comments so rudely to my face. I didn't let her poor behavior dissuade me from continuing to play and I didn't return her negativity toward her. Then she, once again, returned to her gallery.

Almost immediately after the incident, two other women stopped to listen as I played one of my favorites, "Over The Rainbow". They each complimented me as they offered a donation, saying how wonderful they thought I sounded. I thanked them and told them how much I appreciated their reaction to my musical folk art and how I had just received some very negative remarks from the woman in the gallery. I explained, that I thought it odd that folks involved in the appreciation of art could not find the value in supporting musical folk art.

I was still a little shaken by the woman's harsh behavior and decided to offer some blues with my homemade resophonic guitar. My guitar is a real piece of folk art, a found object, functional art piece, that I crafted from recycled garage sale junk. The volume that it can offer is substantial within a quiet environment and many of my blues songs have an in your face kind of edginess that I felt might be a more suitable response to being bullied.

I started off with a slow blues, one of my original songs, "I'm Stuck In Gridlock Again". There were so few folks in the park, that I thought I was completely alone. I was surprised to notice that folks began to gather near to listen. I received some additional compliments, a few more donations and some applause for my efforts. I offered a few more and then the rain, that had been predicted, began to slowly fall. So, I started packing up my things.

Then, I braced myself. The woman from the gallery approached me once more. I expected another tongue lashing but no, she complimented me on my voice and my guitar playing. I briefly explained my guitar's self constructed nature and offered that I had been nominated as one of the best solo blues artists in the region. Afterward, I quickly put away my things to avoid the rainfall.

I guess the lesson here is, that you can please some of the people part of the time and part of the people some of the time but you can't play your saw in the rain, cuz it rusts.


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