The International Art of Busking

I recently met a couple of young tourists from England, Kydd Fire and Kat who had come to Langkawi for a Fire Dancing gig. Unfortunately, the venue was changed and the gig vanished. They had budgeted their money with that particular gig in mind, so where did that leave them? Tight on cash and a couple of weeks before their scheduled flight back to England.


So what do independent travelers like this do? They busk! Now, I had never heard that word before, so I had to look it up. Busking is street performing. An international art form that has stood the test of time.


As a kid, I spent much of my childhood in New Orleans and that was my first experience with busking. From the monkey grinder, whose monkey was dressed in a tiny suit, to tap dancing children with bottle caps on their shoes.  As time went on, more musicians landed on the street to entertain tourists in exchange for a few extra bucks. This really added another special quality to the already lively New Orleans scene.

When I got to San Francisco in 1990, the ‘Summer of Love’ had already come and gone, but the busking continued. Not only in Haight Ashbury, but also in other parts of the city. Some like the infamous Bushman, who has been scaring tourists for years at Fisherman’s Wharf. But others, like Officer Bob Geary  brought along his ‘dummy’ partner on patrol. Meeting and greeting the community in a friendly fun way.


Of course not everyone appreciates street artists. Some insist on making them have special permits or licenses. Yet, it seems that begging for money or just looking destitute with your ‘donation’ jar is ok.  But I for one appreciate anyone with creative talents that they can share with the world.


I don’t care where they’re from, because when I run into street performers it brightens my day. Street performers are great photo opportunities for tourists and even the most dismal place can become more magical with the echoing sound of a violin, drum beats, tap dancing kids,  even people pretending to be statues.


To me art is art and anyone with creative abilities should be embraced. So maybe they get lucky and make a few bucks, you never know the whole story. Are people really worried that they are making so much money they’ll skip out on their taxes? It’s basically free entertainment and  street performers will usually enhance any location visited by ‘tourists’ or the public in general.


I’ve seen famous musicians playing the ‘streets’ with other buskers, simply because they enjoy it.  It’s not always about money. So next time you encounter a busker, consider donating to the arts. These are people like you and me , and they are sharing their talents around the world.

Do you like to see buskers when traveling?
Do you think they are a plus or minus for tourism in general?

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