Written by violinist & street performer, Hannah K Watson
I’ve decided to describe some of my busking experiences with a list of the 10 best, worst, weirdest, random and perhaps helpful tidbits that have made this busking season memorable:
1. Best Day of the Summer
Definitely Independence Day, and oddly enough, it was one of the very first days I was able to busk this summer as well, and man was it a good day. Met a lot of friendly festive people and made a fair amount of tips. People would clap along to the upbeat tunes like ‘Yankee Doodle’ and I even heard a few people singing along with us to songs like ‘God Bless America’ and of course, ‘The Star Spangled Banner’. The simple pleasures of playing some good ol’ American music.
2. Worst Day of the Summer
There were many (more than last summer), but one particular day, temperatures were skyrocketing to dang near 100 degrees, it felt like a sauna bath outside. It was definitely too hot for me, and way too hot for my fiddle. As I recall, I think I played for about a half hour, sweated like a coal miner, then decided to call it a day because it just wasn’t worth it! The planets were not aligned that day.
3. Best Place to Play
My favorite places are all along Michigan Avenue, especially around Magnificent Mile (hopefully in the shade). There are many good spots, but I look for places where lots of people are shopping and kids and families are abundant.
4. Worst Place to Play
I haven’t come across a really horrible busking location yet, though one time on State Street after playing my fingers off for about an hour, I only made $2 in my tip jar. I must have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. In general, I always avoid places that don’t have a lot of foot traffic and might be dangerous or less welcoming parts of town.
Some people tend to get real chatty, which makes it hard to get back to playing sometimes. As a woman, I can double task with the best of them, but it gets difficult to make intelligent comments and play Mozart at the same time! I usually get questions about my violin, how long I’ve been playing and where I went to school. I’ve had a few people ask if they can play my violin for a song or two, and I always reply a polite, “NO”.
6. Most Recognized Tune
‘Canon in D’ by Pachelbel, obviously! Everyone just gushes when they hear it as they walk by, and a little part of me cringes inside each and every time I have to play it, again, and again, and again (it’s the bane of every violinist’s existence). However, playing this piece has gotten me a fair amount of wedding gigs.
7. Most Requested
Again, the answer would be ‘Canon’… but besides this, lots of people request Mozart or Bach. I’ve also gotten a lot of opera requests, such as ‘Meditation from Thais’. Other than the classical stuff, everyone’s always up for a Beatles tune. I love when people recognize ‘It’s Been a Hard Days Night’.
8. Random Things People Have Given Me
On one occasion, a little boy came up to listen for a bit and then gave me 2 bags of Stacy’s Pita Chips, I think he thought I was homeless, :p but no complaints here! Because Stacy’s those pita chips are mmm good!
9. Weirdest Request I’ve Gotten
A man and his son asked me to play some Paganini once. Oddly enough, I have gotten this request once before but the guy was joking (thankfully). This particular man was completely serious and quite put off when I told him I didn’t have any Paganini memorized… sorry, but you just asked me to play some of the hardest violin music known to man, ha ha. I’ll put it on my list of tunes to learn for next summer. :p
10. My Favorite Experiences While Busking
On one exciting day, a group of about 15 people on a ‘city treasure hunt’ surrounded us to take a group photo while we were performing. I never got to see the photo but I bet it was hilarious! On another day, I decided to play a cover of Skrillex’s ‘Scary Monsters’ for the very first time on the street, not even 5 seconds into the beginning of the tune, a guy turned around, told me how bad ass it was and handed me a 20 dollar bill. I have always incorporated this into my routine ever since, but have yet to get another reaction like that.
Written for CSM Chicago Street Musician's Blog 2013.