Busking on the Brain

Elvis on the Square, Knoxville, June 2012

I’ve written about buskers before and even if you haven’t read those older posts, but you’ve read more than a few of my current posts, you might guess that I’m generally pro-busking. I think it adds a flavor to the city that we otherwise miss and I regularly give them a dollar or two. Of course, not all buskers are created equally and, particularly since we have a pretty limited downtown area in which to ply the trade, it seems to me we are increasingly in a position to make some decisions about who to support.

Alexia Pantanizopoulos and friends play Beatles and more

We all know that businesses downtown will succeed or fail depending on the support given. I suspect the same is true for various buskers. While some seem more marginal economically than others, their continuation of “services” depends on the dollars that get dropped into their bucket, hat or instrument case. The more marginal their situation probably the less it takes to keep them coming back.

Old City Buskers, Knoxville

I started thinking about this recently when I confronted our very own Elvis impersonator. The first time I saw him was in the middle of the square and the next time was beside the outdoor seating at Cafe Four. I like Elvis and I like busking, so this should be a good thing, right? Initially delighted, my reaction soon turned much more negative. The guy is awful. He sort of barely sings and his sound system is atrocious. I would hate to settle in for a dinner outside on the square and have to listen to him. Which means I have to hope no one gives him money or he’ll keep coming back.

Xylophone Guy, Krutch Park, Knoxville

The same is true for several other buskers, in my opinion, though I’m certainly open to debate: we all have different tastes and different reasons we hand out our money. The fellow with the small, always colorfully dressed dog is another one that needs to go. He doesn’t play music, simply strumming the same three chords repeatedly (G-C-D for those keeping score at home). This does nothing to elevate life on the street.

Dave Perkins Busking, Knoxville

Here are a few others and my vote:

  • Alexia Pantanizop0ulus (and various stringed combinations playing classical versions of Beatle’s Songs): Give her money! She is a Cellist with the Johnson City and her rotating group – sometimes called Norwegian Wood – adds immensely to the ambiance.
  • Old City Buskers – Young retro-players give the Market Square Farmer’s Market a definite bounce: They get my money.
  • Bill and Jake: The grandfather of all buskers, Bill is a crusty old, nice guy with a good voice and a good spirit: Gets the money.
  • Lady/Person telling fortunes on a blanket: I’ve got no reason to wish her to be gone if you want her on the square, still I’ve always been creeped out a little by Fortune Telling and this person doesn’t give me good vibes: Keeping my money.
  • Xylophone Player: Give Him the Money! He’s excellent, friendly and his music is perfect for hanging out in the park and dining out.
  • Person playing the modified (wider neck) stereo guitar, usually found outside the Market Square Parking Garage: Nice guy, lives in Virginia as I recall and plays some very cool licks: He gets my money.
  • Harvey the Magician: I’ve blogged about him before, I think he’s very good at what he does and I like to see him supported.
  • Balloon making guy who also plays clarinet and some very loud horn: Mixed feelings on this one. I like the balloons and the clarinet and absolutely hate the horn. Also, he’s got a little creepiness factor if you look back at older News Sentinel stories about him.
  • Travelers: These are the young people who come through in groups of a half dozen to a dozen, sprawl across the ground and sometimes play music. They always have a dog or two on a rope or unleashed and they look as if they purposefully wallowed in mud. They are aggressive in panhandling as well as busking, block pathways and smell really, really bad. I never give them a penny.
Young Busker on Krutch Park, Knoxville: Definitely Support this Guy

There are others, of course, some of which I’ve forgotten and some of which I don’t know their names or enough detail to get across who I”m talking about. It’s worth a mention, also, that many of the artists who play in bars around town are playing for tips, so please tip them.

Jazz on the Square, Knoxville, June 2012
Jazz on the Square, Knoxville, June 2012

One regularly performing group that falls somewhere in the middle is the Jazz quintet that plays on Tuesday nights through the summer. Readers of this blog know that I dearly love this weekly event and the music is absolutely world class. Their music is loud enough to be heard at every restaurant on the square and I strongly feel the people who come to listen and the people who eat outside should drop money in the bucket.

Jazz on the Square, Knoxville, June 2012
Jazz on the Square, Knoxville, June 2012

Now maybe you coincidentally happened upon the square, didn’t ask for the music and maybe even don’t like it: OK, fine. But if you bring a chair or plan your meal to enjoy the jazz from an outdoor table, stop by the stage and drop off a little money.

It turns out there are sponsors helping out, but the organizational driving force for the shows, as well as awesome trumpet playing, comes from Vance Thompson. Vance also happens to be the director of the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra. If I understand it correctly, he’s used the sponsorships (notably from Eddie Mannis) to pay the band, but his only payoff comes from the tip jar. I’ve carried the tip jar around to various seats before, but I really wish people would simply step up and give them their due.

Saxophone Busker on the Square, Knoxville, June 2012

So, what do you think? Do you never give money to buskers because you consider them a nuisance and didn’t ask them to play in the first place? Do you think we should give money to all of them because at least they are out there trying? Do you think I missed the mark on my giving or not giving? Leave a comment and we’ll talk about it.

Bronze Guy Busking, Knoxville: Did they tip him?