If you don't know what a busker is, you're not alone — especially in Miami. For all of South Florida's weird and wonderful talent, we're not exactly known for our "people who entertain in a public place," as Webster defines the term. "Miami has a ton of performers, but except for Lincoln Road and sometimes Coconut Grove, you don't really see them on the street," Amy San Pedro says. That's one of the big reasons why she cofounded Buskerfest, the Miami street performer festival that will be held this Friday from 4 to 9:30 p.m. throughout downtown Miami.
The idea began in 2013, when San Pedro and her colleagues asked a simple question: "How can we improve downtown Miami after dark?" From that idea of encouraging people to explore downtown and use public transportation, as well as having a bit of fun along the way, the seeds of Buskerfest were sowed. The group's stated vision for this entirely free event was to "strive for a connected, thriving urban core where the streets of Miami are active and enlivened with local performers, enjoyed by people of all ages and walks of life," San Pedro says. "We envision a joyous place that is reflective of the tropical urban landscape and attractive to locals and visitors alike.
"When we started in 2013 to bring people's attention to public transportation, we placed performers at each of the eight stops of the inner loop of Metromover so people could know where it can take you. This year, we also have satellite stops scattered around downtown, like at the Olympia Theater, to get people to walk around the neighborhood to watch entertainment."
Over the course of its four-year existence, Buskerfest has built up enough goodwill that this year had a waiting list of performers looking to show off their skills. Among the lucky artists scheduled to perform are musicians such as Bad Apples Brass Band and Lady of Harp, along with dancers and acrobats. There's even a stop dedicated to standup comedians, including local comics Freddy Stebbins and David del Rosario. There will be a children's corner at Miami Center for Architecture & Design featuring craft-making, storytelling, and flamenco guitar. At 6 p.m., you can take a look at Miami's past with archival footage presented by the Lynn and Louis Wolfson II Florida Moving Image Archives on the big screen at Tina Hills Pavilion.
To catch a diversity of acts — and so patrons know where to head next — Buskerfest has developed a "passport" that can be picked up at any stop. "Then once you go to your next stop," San Pedro explains, "you can pick up a stamp from any Buskerfest volunteer. If you fill up your passport with at least five stickers, you can go back to our headquarters at Bayfront Park and turn it in." Then folks will be able to vote on their favorite performer of the day, as well as enter a raffle. Among the prizes will be concert tickets and free rooms at participating hotels. Passport-holders can also receive discounts at local businesses.
After buzzing around downtown, all of Buskerfest will move at 7 p.m. to Bayfront Park, where a dozen players will busk simultaneously throughout the park. Then, at 8 p.m., all eyes will turn toward the day's headliner, Ketchy Shuby, which will play its trademark brand of Miami soul.
Buskerfest. 4 p.m. Friday, December 9, at Tina Hills Pavilion, 301 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-358-7550; buskerfestmiami.com. Admission is free.