- Austen Diamond
Not everyone is familiar with the term "busker," but everyone would know one when they saw one. They're on the street, at intersections, sometimes solo, sometimes in groups of two or three, singing, dancing, hula-hooping, juggling, performing. Buskers fill a city with a sound that's often as omnipresent as that of traffic—always distant or too-close, always around the corner, bouncing off the concrete and the buildings. The corner of, say, Main Street and 100 South calls to mind a certain echoing quality when someone's jamming on drums or a saxophone — making the whole intersection seem like an open-air performance hall.
On Friday, Aug. 16, Salt Lake City pedestrians passing through that intersection can expect to find more than one musical act filling the bustling street with their sound. The second annual Busker Fest returns for another round, extending a lineup of musicians, dancers, hula-hoopers, jugglers, comedians and many other performers all the way from Regent Street to that corner on Main. Event coordinator Kim Angeli of Primrose Productions teamed up with the Salt Lake City Arts Council to craft a night where street performers will capture the fancy of pedestrians, hopefully making them stop and appreciate all they offer.
Angeli's interest in boosting space, visibility and understanding about busking and the local busking scene comes from her years spent coordinating the Downtown Farmers Market from 2006-16, where she met a network of buskers who inspired her. "Busking and street performance are time-honored traditions in vibrant cities around the globe, and have been for centuries," she explains.
Her goals, shared by the Salt Lake City Arts Council and the Redevelopment Agency, go beyond just boosting the visibility of artistry. Both groups seek to find ways to draw activity downtown in a way that considers all of its stakeholders—performers, pedestrians and business owners. With the advent of the Eccles Theater, McCarthey Plaza and Regent Street, funds were allocated for arts and culture events to fill the spaces. The first Busker Fest in 2018 was a result of that funding. "When looking for ways to integrate culture and even walkability to the urban landscape, creating space for buskers is a valuable tool," Angeli says. "For the most part, buskers don't require extra infrastructure. They have self-contained shows, they are already here and they showcase the local culture of the city."
With timed performance slots ranging from 30-minute circle acts to one-hour street acts lining Regent Street, McCarthey Plaza and a special fourth pitch (busker lingo for performance area) on Main and 100 South, there's no way pedestrians can miss the activity. Angeli hopes this exposure will encourage buskers to consider applying for city permits. She also hopes businesses will coordinate with performers, and pedestrians learn how to interact with them (how to tip is probably a lesson many folks could stand to learn).
But it's also about getting to know one's fellow city-streets neighbor. "Inspiration, laughter, a desire to explore the city on foot, to take in the surprises an enriched urban environment can offer when you slow down and engage, to experience shared cultural events with strangers," are the reasons Angeli rattles off for what truly motivates the festival.
Like public space in general, the festival is free to all who pass by, and features performances from both amateur artists and experienced troubadours. "We are able to find places for performers of all experience levels to share their talents. In certain cases, this is one of the first times these artists have performed for an audience. In other cases, these are professional, traveling troubadours 100% dedicated to honing their craft," Angeli explains. She particularly looks forward to the travelling troubadours, who will join the locals and provide "hysterical" entertainment, and, she hopes, inspiration to local talent. She adds, "Don't miss the Fire Show Finale this year. Busker Fest has an underlying vaudeville theme, harkening back to Salt Lake City's rich theater roots. Along these lines, you can expect a heavy dose of fire-eating and spitting and amazing costumery from our performers."
Angeli points out that the event "brings a little magic right out into the street," and as our city continues to grow and change so rapidly—sometimes in hard-to-swallow ways—it can't hurt to give back to the artists who spread their talents across it, brightening it and making it friendlier, more like a place to call home. "I want this event to catalyze street performance year-round in Salt Lake City," Angeli says. We could all use a little of that determination to stop, look around and engage with the streets of Salt Lake City, and all the people who walk them—or use them as a stage.