Cirque Du Soleil, Dolly Parton, Edith Piaf, Jimmy Buffett, Paul McCartney, Simon and Garfunkel, and even Benjamin Franklin got their start in the arts by busking – that is, performing on the streets, usually in areas where there is high pedestrian traffic. These sidewalk stars are drawn to crowds in order to fulfill a need to grow and nourish their talents. In the middle ages, troubadours gallivanted about the highways and byways of Europe, dramatizing the latest news via poetry, song, mime and comedy; by the Renaissance, the Commedia dell’Arte perfected this art to a science. Often, they performed before royal courts and lodged with nobility as they toured their wayfaring circuits. Anthropologically speaking, buskers give humanity bits of diversion and escape from a humdrum existence, enabling us some moments to relax and recharge. The Detroit area offers a variety of venues where buskers are always welcomed and enjoyed by grateful crowds.
Hours: dawn to dusk
Buskers such as The Violin Monster celebrate their talents in the heart of Plymouth at Kellogg Park, which hosts Music in the Park on Fridays and a wide variety of other special events like Art in the Park and the Plymouth Fall Festival. Weekends are always the best times to catch up-and-coming stars showcasing their talents. The Violin Monster lurks about the park wearing a big bad wolf mask, reminiscent of the masked characters from Commedia dell’Arte. Though his appearance may be frightful, his tunes are delightful!
The Detroit area has a festival dedicated specifically to busking, across the river into merry Windsor. It is one of Windsor-Detroit area’s most popular summer family events, and certainly one of Canada’s most successful busker festivals. This event features many of the world’s most sought-after street performers, drawing some 80,000 spectators over the festive weekend. Proceeds from the festival benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters of Windsor & Essex County.
Hours: Sat. – 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Eastern Market is a fun place to visit any time, with all the hustle and bustle of fruit and vegetable vendors, nursery houses, floral arrangers and creative artisans peddling their hand-crafted wares. The excitement doubles on Saturdays, when actors, singers, musicians, jugglers, mimes, human statues, magicians and puppeteers busk in five locations scattered throughout the complex. Buskers include Freedom Underground, led by guitarist Keith Owens; these buskers present a new spin on the fusion of jazz/rock/funk.
Price: $10 or less
Hours: 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
Zakk Gallows performs at the very hip Tongue’s Bar in Wyandotte, while patrons arrive in Elvis outfits to get half-price drinks on Elvis’ birthday, always enjoying Country/Cowpunk/Hellbilly/Rockabilly/Psychobilly/anything billy buskers. The management at Tongues encourages people to share their active and artistic lifestyles that make each and all individual. Wyandotte has reinvented itself as a haven for artistic types; the annual Art Festival draws nationwide attention for innovative promulgation. Tongue’s carries the torch to light the way for emerging artists to express themselves and reach new audiences.
Television star “Wolfman” Mac Kelly is a hair-raising celeb who frequents the UDetroit Cafe, a media espresso bar with live radio and web broadcasting. He hosts a Saturday afternoon show from 4:30 to 6:30 when new talent get their big breaks; a recently featured guest was Dave Santia, who can speed paint portaits in minuits. The upper floor is Harmonie Park recording studio where famed artists like Aretha Franklin, Tori Amos, Motley Crew, Bob Ritchie (Kid Rock) and Marshall Mathers (Eminem) drop in to visit. Cafe patrons watch entertainers jam or juggle or sip java, live and in person. Buskers appear regularly to show off their talents and get national exposure; patrons can purchase light meals from the short-order menu, rubbing elbows with illustrious talent.
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Price: $8 adults/$6 seniors/$4 youth 6 – 17 years old/$5 college students/free for members
Hours: Wed to Thu-10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Fri-10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sat to Sun-10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Closed Mondays and Tuesdays
The Detroit Institute of Arts hosts amazing storytellers who drop by to spin tales of adventure and intrigue. One busker, Genot Picor, appears in full voyager regalia; his story is presented in the “first person,” where the main character relates the tale of a newly-arrived orphan to North America, who is an indentured servant working in the fur trade. Picor is a graduate student in Interpretive/Performance Studies at Eastern Michigan University, specializing in oral tradition, narrative studies and the anthropology of performance. The DIA will offer free general museum admission to active military personnel and their families from Memorial Day to Labor Day as part of the Blue Star Museums program. The Ford Motor Fund sponsors free admission to the general public on the second Sunday of every month. Admission is free for Detroit residents every Friday.
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Romero Anton Montalban-Anderssen is the winner of the 2009 first prize in journalism from the Detroit Working Writers Organization. He earned a Juris Doctor degree from Wayne State University School of Law. He has seasonal residency in Detroit Michigan, The Italian Riviera, and Honolulu Hawaii. His work can be found at Examiner.com.