Buskerfest 2015 Aims to Bring the Music to You

Usually, one thing that most major cities with character have in common are street performers. However, busking seems to be something that has never really taken hold in Miami. Why not? There's no shortage of musicians from all over the world living here. The weather is great. And there are plenty of unregulated spots with a lot of foot traffic as well.

Well, Buskerfest is doing something about this. This Friday, from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., you can expect a much more lively downtown, Metrorail, and Metromover experience as dozens of musicians and performers take to the streets of Greater Downtown Miami to bring a little music to your commute. Some of South Florida's most talented musicians have been carefully assembled by the folks at Buskerfest to entertain and remind us what a vibrant city we can be.

With a final performance and closing ceremonies wrapping up in Bayfront Park, Buskerfest is a growing festival and movement that we all need to know about.

We asked co-founders, Amy San Pedro and Justin Trieger about Buskerfest and what we can expect. 

New Times: How did Buskerfest get started? Who's idea was it and how did it come about?
San Pedro and Trieger (answered together): Buskerfest Miami was an idea that was born as part of a community meeting hosted by WhereBy.Us. A group of five people (Amy San Pedro, Justin Trieger, Ben Jervis, Collin Worth, and Gary Ressler), imagined street performers as an easy way to activate Downtown Miami and draw attention to the growing number of amenities it offers. The Metromover was a natural vehicle to allow attendees to move quickly from one performance site to the next for free.

What are your feelings about having Buskerfest in Miami, a city not known for its plethora of buskers?
When the project first started, we didn't realize that Miami lacked a street performer scene. It has all of the prerequisites for a thriving busking society: weather, mass transit, a high concentration of people, and a talented populace who are familiar with busking from other cities. After making this realization, we decided to focus the effort on jump-starting that culture and using the annual festival as the cornerstone of that initiative.

What places have you been to that seem to have the best busking scene?
New York obviously comes to mind, especially with programs like Music Under New York, which has been around for over 30 years. London has a great scene on the river that's supported by local government. New Orleans has a great tradition of performing on the street. Asheville, North Carolina, interestingly has a lot of activity. Then, of course, there's pretty much every major European capital like Paris, Barcelona, Dublin, Copenhagen, Prague, Berlin, and the list goes on.

What is a common misconception about busking/buskers?
There's often a knee-jerk reaction that confuses buskers with panhandlers. Although many artists make a living busking, it is not simply a way to collect money. Panhandling refers to begging for money as charity. Busking is performing in public for optional tips.

Why do you feel that busking is important?
Busking is important for many reasons. For the artists, it provides a way to try out new material in one of the most challenging situations for capturing an audience. It's the most democratic artistic expression out there. If you're able to capture someone's attention while they are walking to work (let alone a dollar), that means you are affecting them in a meaningful way. It also removes the stigma that stages and traditional venues usually impose. There's no dress code — no extreme etiquette. It's just a human-to-human experience. For the environment, it provides an obvious beautification of surroundings, but perhaps less obviously, it also adds a level of safety by creating energy at street level. More eyes on the street means more general awareness. Miami in particular also lacks performance opportunities for lesser known performers. Our venues continue to disappear at an alarming rate. And ultimately, it just brings joy to peoples' lives in unexpected moments.

Do you have a personal favorite busker? Who is it?
Not a favorite necessarily, but perhaps a notable example would be Glen Hansard who got his start busking in Dublin and went on to front two major bands, the Frames and the Swell Season. Rod Stewart also got his start busking, as did Beck, Dylan, David Byrne and many, many others.

What is your vision of the future for Buskerfest?
If we achieve our goal, our festival would only be a celebration of our busker community rather than the center of it. Our hope is that the festival introduces busking as a concept to performers and residents and that it becomes an everyday part of life in Miami.

Buskerfest. 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, December 11, at Greater Downtown Miami. For more info on the schedule and lineup, go to buskerfestmiami.com.

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