Dirty-South Blues Harp forum: wail on! > OFFICIAL BUSKING THREAD: best cities, venues, etc
OFFICIAL BUSKING THREAD:  best cities, venues, etc
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2850 posts
Nov 29, 2011
1:09 PM
Given several recent threads, we are long overdue for a thread in which we simply pool the most up-to-date information we've got about good places to busk in various corners of the world. This would be a place to compare notes, dispel rumors, ask questions about current conditions on the ground, etc.

I don't have much up-to-date info, but I've got a little. Below, in no particular order, are notes about specific places.

--CLARKSDALE, MS: It's a busker's free-for-all on festival days: the Juke Joint Festival in April, the Sunflower River Gospel & Blues Festival in early August.

--TIMES SQUARE, NYC: Any recent experiences with this? Five or six years ago I revisited 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues and I was shocked by the presence of street performers. During Giuliani's rule everybody was cleaned off the sidewalks.

--PORTLAND, OR: I've heard rumors that it's very friendly to buskers.

--CAMBRIDGE, MASS.: I busked there back in 2007 or 2008, when Charlie Hilbert and I were promoting JOURNEYMAN'S ROAD, and I was amazed. A city official GREETED me with real friendliness after watching Charlie and me play for fifteen or twenty minutes. "You're allowed to play one day without registering," she said sweetly. "If you're planning on busking for longer than that, you'll need to register." We were playing not far from Harvard Square.

--SEATTLE, WA: Any news on this?

--KEY WEST, FLA: Tolerant place. I was there in February and saw several people busking.

--NEW ORLEANS, LA: Obviously a lot of busking action there, but I'd be interested in hearing more specifics from our NOLA contingent here. Can outsiders come in and set up shop--at Jackson Square, for example?
491 posts
Nov 29, 2011
1:18 PM
I've never been to Portland, but my wife has lived there and still has family in the area. She's said that the outdoor markets there are full of buskers and it's a very friendly scene.

Hawkeye Kane
8 posts
Nov 29, 2011
1:42 PM
New Orleans:
I've been playing around the quarter a little bit, and there are street musicians everywhere. It can be a challenge finding a good spot to play where you wont interrupt other musicians and/or the stereo at bars..... Unless you get there early in the morning. Its a bit taboo to play in front of open businesses, but some are closed while others are open.

Some larger acts secure popular street corners (closed to traffic) and play to entire intersections.

I've heard that jackson square only gives out a couple hundred permits per year (in february?).. This is one of the only places where a permit is required to play in new orleans.

So far i've had no trouble playing amplified through my Pignose, and I hve yet to witness anybody being harassed over amplification.

Good to go!
1603 posts
Nov 29, 2011
2:57 PM
have heard that dublin,ireland is great place for busking-I once arrived in edinburgh,scotland via train and first sound was a piper playing amazing grace his sign said just busking the first time I had heard of this word
175 posts
Nov 29, 2011
3:05 PM
Seattle is pretty busker friendly. I haven't busked there, but here's what I know from living here my whole life:

Tourist Central - Pike Place Market, has a defined zone in and around the market for busking, in specific areas that allow for buskers to have spaces to play, but this requires a license. Here's a site that has a lot of info about it: http://pikemarketbuskers.org/

This is where the cops/Market security will chase you out sans license. Also, during festivals or events at The Seattle Center, or elsewhere, there is usually a permit or inexpensive license that is required to busk, although events such as the Folklife Festival often bring out all manner of musicians playing, so it would seem the enforcement is a bit relaxed.

During the daytime, around downtown, and up on Broadway on Capitol Hill, you'll see various buskers working the corners both with and without amplification. Westlake park is a popular area also. There are laws about amplified performance, but for the most part, unless you're really abusive, a small busking amp that doesn't spread the music past the immediate area is tolerated. Another popular spot is Pacific Place Mall at 6th and Pine, with a popular sidewalk spot that reaches everyone passing in/out and has some great acoustics for it.

Overall, for a very inexpensive license, or finding a good spot on the corner or under an awning, the buskers seem to be doing well enough and without police harassment. I haven't seen the cops really jump on buskers, short of those truly abusing the law with amplification, clogging a sidewalk (rare, except for the Pike Place Market areas), so it's my perception that police bothering is low to nil.

Keep in mind that in Seattle, weather is the biggest factor. It rarely rains hard, but it's otherwise raining plenty, and if not, the overcast skies and breeze can be cold if you're not used to it. Some buskers have small portable fabric covers they pitch like you'd see at picnics or fair booths, others just play in the open weather and move on when it changes negatively. Rain doesn't keep people indoors here, but the sidewalks undercover get crowded by pedestrians for it. Buskers learn to dress for the weather (and it's going to be a cold winter this year, I'm feeling it already). Bring layers. Warm, dry layers.

There are a handful of regulars that busk the area - they're easily spotted around town, and seem to stay out of trouble and get neutral to positive reception. I'd say that as a busker in Seattle, you'd have to try with effort to make yourself a nuisance if you have an ounce of busker sense and a handful of street smarts as it relates to city culture and performance.

That's my two cents, typing from the hip. Come to town and bring your harps - the harmonica players here on the street are extremely rare -most who have one are vagrants and people who appear to making noise vs. working on a song.
1687 posts
Nov 29, 2011
3:11 PM
There are basically only two places in the Phoenix area where busking is worthwile: Tempe (because of ASU), and Downtown Phoenix (especially in the Roosevelt Row arts district on festival nights).

Tempe AZ: You are free to busk un-amped anywhere except for city parks. I've done some acoustic busking down on Mill avenue, and it was okay. There are a lot of young, drugged-out, gutter punks there, so they can hassle you a bit cause you are stepping on "their" territory (which is annoying). Drunk college kids can either be very generous or very stingy, so it's not always a good time. Plus, the bars and clubs get loud, and you can't really be heard acoustic in most spots. You can apply for a permit from the city to play amped in the Mill Avenue district on any night, but I think this costs money. Better yet, every Thursday evening is an official "buskers" night on Mill. From what I can tell, you audition for the Mill Avenue District Art's board, and they'll give you designated spot with a power outlet! (http://www.millavenue.com/events/musiconmill) I'm not sure if there is a charge for this, but judging by the caliber of some of the "acts", I don't think there is. This is something I'm going to start doing soon, since it's sanctioned and monitored, but I haven't done it yet.

Phoenix AZ: Phx is a free-for-all when it comes to busking! No regulations whatsoever! Play acoustic or amped... no prob. Your best bests are during First Friday's or Third Thursdays, when there are big street fairs... This is where I usually play, and where I make the most coin. I've played at some other, more specialized street fairs in phoenix, and have been hassled by the cops. But I've never even been looked at funny by a cop on First Fridays. It's expected that there will be tons of buskers out there, so it's relaxed. I think the only regulation in Phx is that you don't play right on the light rail platforms. Other than that, I believe it's wide open!


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334 posts
Nov 29, 2011
3:22 PM
Sydney Australia:
Each local gov't area has its own rules/regulations.

You need a licence to busk in the main CBD (business district). The City has a website. http://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/business/approvalspermitsandnotifications/busking.asp
Amps are OK unless you are too loud.

Around the Opera House and Circular Quay you need a different licence and $10m in public liability insurance.
118 posts
Nov 29, 2011
3:54 PM
I don't busk often, but I had fun at these places:

Washington Square Park in NYC
16th Street Mall in Denver
Mill Ave in Tempe AZ
1604 posts
Nov 29, 2011
5:22 PM
thanks for the youtube digest adam from someone who has been there love the portability of the harp aint it grand????
101 posts
Nov 29, 2011
11:44 PM
Portland is indeed a great busking city. Buskers also do well at Yonge and Dundas Square and around Queen and Spadina in Toronto.
3468 posts
Nov 30, 2011
5:53 AM
Chad, I applaud you being new to town and hitting the Quarter playing already-let me know when and where and I will try to catch you(and maybe sit in if you'll throw an old guy a bone ;-D )

Most buskers outside Jackson Square in the French Quarter are on or directly off of Royal Street, in the span between Canal St and St. Louis Cathedral. You will seldom see them anywhere else, besides the Moonwalk on the River. I have heard and read that you can now play without a permit, but let me get some firsthand folks to confirm that before you bank on it. I will walk down there today at lunch.
Todd L. Greene

cchc Pictures, Images and Photos
1942 posts
Nov 30, 2011
6:13 AM
I was in NYC for a week in October. There were street performers and subway performers, but I went to Time Square twice and the only "performers" I saw were people dressed in costumes - Mickey Mouse, the Big Apple, Cookie Monster - and I actually saw the police writing the Big Apple a ticket.

There were several spots around the trains where people were performing, and I saw what appeared to be a few permits to do so. Around the Brooklyn Bridge there were cops not even 15ft from the performers and they seemed cool with what was going on.

There were some GREAT blues-type bands performing in the larger train terminals. They had to have been legit.

We stayed with family in Brooklyn, but I bet we went to the city every day. My favorite were the performers at Central Park (ran into Rod Stewart there too). They have to have permission to be there, right? My son LOVED the musicians there. They all went out of their way to engage him and have fun with him (before and after getting tipped). Very, very fun.
Quicksilver Custom Harmonicas
VHT Special 6 Mods
3469 posts
Nov 30, 2011
10:31 AM
Okay, i am back from my lunchtime walk thru the Quarter, and I got the scoop right from the horse's mouth:No permits are required on Royal Street, but they are required for street performers/artsits/vendors of any kind on Canal Street or Jackson Square.

And, judging from the smell of one large and always-popular group of ragtime jazz performers, bathing is not required either.

During the daytime(when Royal is generally blocked off), you'll have a steady flow of tourists and locals(like me)most of the day, and especially when the weather isn't frightful. If one were to get ahold of a calendar of big events in town, such as the Sugar Bowl and the conventions, you could smartly plan your most profitable visits.
Todd L. Greene

cchc Pictures, Images and Photos

Last Edited by on Nov 30, 2011 10:34 AM
1893 posts
Nov 30, 2011
11:08 AM
Honolulu, and Kalalaua Ave. in the heart of Waikiki only.
there are performers every night of the week from the International Market Place all the way Diamond Head to Kapiolani Park. Carribean steel drummers, saxophonists,slack key guitarists, wierd painted folk, you name it.

license? no one has a license.

doctor of semiotics and reed replacement.

"making the world a better place, one harmonica at a time"
4387 posts
Nov 19, 2013
5:07 PM
The Blues Doctors are going to come down to NOLA and hopefully busk in January. Can someone update me on the busking situation there? I'll use a pair of Mouses, but of course I've got my footdrums. Will we need a permit for Jackson Square? Several websites say yes, but other say that since Katrina everything has lightened up.
591 posts
Nov 19, 2013
11:05 PM
I play in Balboa park most Sundays while my son rehearses with the youth symphony. I have yet to ask for or receive donations there. I know a permit is required for busking, but seeing I don't have a hat out, I am not busking. I have not been bothered by the rangers.

I stopped at the rangers office to see what it would take to get a permit once and the person at the desk was not sure exactly, but their description was consistent with what I found here

Busking permit process for Balboa Park
Joe Strouzer
43 posts
Nov 20, 2013
4:24 AM
@groyster1 yeah DUBLIN is ok, but last time we played there we some of our tips stolen out the hat by a crack head... I ran after the guy but when he turned round he was covered in his own blood, I left it at that....
Best in Ireland I've had is GALWAY by a country mile, and the best spots are all by my favourite pub, Tigh Neachtains. you can often find harmonica customizer Cathal Johnson in there too.

I'm heading to NOLA in January and will definitely be getting out on the streets to play, other musicians I know from England who came over had no problems in the past!

1883 posts
Nov 20, 2013
6:05 AM
I second Asheville N.C., but you better have your permit! Mine son and his buddy were fined more than they made...lol

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