Yes, bring back the buskers!



(The Aerial Angels dazzled the downtown in 2006.)


Overheard at yesterday's finance, administration and operations committee meeting: “Since the story came out in The Recorder and Times, people have been telling me they miss the Buskers Festival.”

Also overheard at the same committee meeting: “Somebody should tell Chris Hum.”

Chris Hum, of course, is the city's new festivals and events co-ordinator, who is actively seeking and pursuing ideas to serve his bold ambition of giving Brockville a new signature festival by next summer.

Now that city hall is developing a new busking bylaw, it might just be the time to remind Mr. Hum that, in its brief flash of glory a decade ago, the Downtown Brockville Buskers Festival was a thing to behold.

The photo above was taken at the height of that festival's glory, in 2006, when the Kalamazoo, Mich.-based Aerial Angels dazzled us with their trademark “Tongue-to-Tongue Transfer.”

(I took that picture on a busy Friday night, and remember being interrupted in the setup of it by a call from my editor, urgently reminding me my deadline for filing my pictures was now in the rear-view mirror. Once I was back at the office, my editor called up the photo on his screen and all was forgiven.)

The Buskers Festival would last only two more years, before being rolled into an ill-fated gastronomically-themed “Taste of Downtown”-type thing, and with it there faded a spark of special street-level creativity.

It might just be that Brockville is too small a spot for a long-lasting busker fest luring performers in from all kinds of places. Or it could just be the particular economic situation, post-2008, combined with the other challenges the downtown was facing right at that time, made it too difficult to continue the Buskers Festival.

Regardless, the idea deserves another go – either as a new signature festival, or (more likely) as an ancillary festival to help fill out the rest of the summer.

Licensing buskers, even if it really is only one or two a year, would help build the public's interest in a revived festival.

And to complete the feedback loop, a new, thriving busker fest would encourage more performers to seek a Downtown Brockville licence during the rest of the summer.

The result would be a more vibrant, edgy downtown area – in a word, more fun.

As for the merits of having some local group judge and vet prospective buskers applying for a licence, that is really a topic for another post.

For now, I give you the opinion of Mayor David Henderson, who had this to say in our comments section: “The 'audition question' seemed a little odd but generally happens elsewhere to ensure that the "Dead Kennedys," the "Violent Femmes" or "Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols" are not jamming it out in front of the Bridal Boutique at full volume.”

With respect, Your Worship, can you imagine the influx of tourists with greying mohawks such a spectacle would bring?