Street performance or busking is the act of performing in public places for gratuities
. In many countries the rewards are generally in the form of money but other gratuities such as food, drink or gifts may be given. Street performance is practiced all over the world and dates back to antiquity
. People engaging in this practice are called street performers or buskers in the United Kingdom. Buskers is not a term generally used in American English.
Performances are anything that people find entertaining
, including acrobatics
, animal tricks
, balloon twisting
ing, comedy, contortion
, dance, singing, fire skills
, flea circus
, living statue
al performance, puppeteer
ing, snake charming
or reciting poetry
, street art
such as sketching
and painting, street theatre
, sword swallowing
, and ventriloquism
The term ''busking'' was first noted in the English language around the middle 1860s in Great Britain. The verb ''to busk'', from the word ''busker'', comes from the Spanish root word ''buscar'', with the meaning "to seek".
Definition from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
The Spanish word ''buscar'' in turn evolved from the Indo-European
word ''*bhudh-skō'' ("to win, conquer").
It was used for many street acts, and was the title of a famous Spanish book about one of them, ''El Buscón
''. Today, the word is still used in Spanish but mostly reserved for female street sex workers, or mistresses of married men.
There have been performances in public places for gratuities
in every major culture in the world, dating back to antiquity
. For many musicians street performance was the most common means of employment before the advent of recording
and personal electronics.
[Baird, Stephen (2000]
"The History and Cultural Impact of Street Performing in America: Ben Franklin"
Street Performers and Buskers Advocates. Retrieved 2010-06-10.
Prior to that, a person had to produce any music or entertainment, save for a few mechanical devices such as the barrel organ
, the music box
, and the piano roll
. Organ grinder
s were commonly found busking in the old days.
Busking is common among some Romani people
. Romantic mention of Romani music, dancers and fortune tellers are found in all forms of song poetry, prose and lore. The Roma brought the word busking to England by way of their travels along the Mediterranean
coast to Spain and the Atlantic Ocean and then up north to England and the rest of Europe.
In medieval France buskers were known by the terms troubadour
s and ''jongleurs''. In northern France they were known as trouveres. In old German buskers were known as Minnesingers
and ''Spielleute''. In obsolete French it evolved to ''busquer'' for "seek, prowl" and was generally used to describe prostitutes. In Russia buskers are called skomorokh
and their first recorded history appears around the 11th century.
s, Mexican bands that play a style of music by the same name, frequently busk when they perform while traveling through streets and plazas, as well as in restaurants and bars.
Definition from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
Around the mid-19th century Japanese ''Chindonya
'' started to be seen using their skills for advertising, and these street performers are still occasionally seen in Japan. Another Japanese street performance form dating from the Edo period
is Nankin Tamasudare
, in which the performer creates large figures using a bamboo mat.
In 19th century, Italian street musicians (mainly from Liguria
, Emilia Romagna
) began to roam worldwide in search of fortune. Musicians from Basilicata
, especially the so-called ''Viggianesi
'', would later become professional instrumentalists in symphonic orchestras, especially in the United States
. The street musicians from Basilicata are sometimes cited as an influence on Hector Malot
's ''Sans Famille
In the United States, medicine show
s proliferated in the 19th century. They were traveling vendors selling elixir
s and potion
s to improve the health. They would often employ entertainment acts as a way of making the clients feel better. The people would often associate this feeling of well-being with the products sold. After these performances they would "pass the hat".
s have historically performed as buskers playing a variety of instruments simultaneously. One-man bands proliferated in urban areas in the 19th and early 20th centuries and still perform to this day. A current one-man band plays all their instruments acoustically usually combining a guitar, a harmonica, a drum and a tambourine. They may also include singing. Many still busk but some are booked to play at festivals and other events.
has always been an important part of the busking scene. Cafe, restaurant, bar and pub busking is a mainstay of this art form. Two of the more famous folk singers are Woody Guthrie
and Joan Baez
. The delta blues
men were mostly itinerant musicians emanating from the Mississippi Delta region of the USA around the early 1940s and on. B.B. King
is one famous example who came from these roots.
of the hippie
s of the 1960s occasionally staged "be-ins", which resembled some present-day busker festivals. Bands and performers would gather at public places and perform for free, passing the hat to make money. The San Francisco Bay Area
was at the epicenter of this movement – be-ins were staged at Golden Gate Park
and San Jose
's Bee Stadium and other venues. Some of the bands that performed in this manner were Janis Joplin
with Big Brother and the Holding Company
, the Grateful Dead
, Jefferson Airplane
, Quicksilver Messenger Service
, Country Joe and the Fish
, Moby Grape
and Jimi Hendrix
ing can also be a form of busking, as wassailing
included singing for alms, wassail
or some other form of refreshment such as figgy pudding
. In Ireland the traditional Wren Boys and in England Morris Dancing
can be considered part of the busking tradition.
In India and Pakistan's Gujarati
is a form of street art where there are plays enacted in the village, the barot
or the village singer also is part of the local entertainment scene.
In the 2000s, some performers have begun "Cyber Busking". Artists post work or performances on the Internet for people to download or "stream" and if people like it they make a donation using PayPal
There are three basic forms of street performance
"Circle shows" are shows that tend to gather a crowd around them. They usually have a distinct beginning and end. Usually these are done in conjunction with street theatre
, comedians, acrobats
rs and sometimes musicians. Circle shows can be the most lucrative. Sometimes the crowds attracted can be very large. A good busker will control the crowd so the patrons do not obstruct foot traffic.
"Walk-by acts" are typically where the busker performs a musical, living statue or other act that does not have a distinct beginning or end and the public usually watch for a brief time. A walk by act may turn into a circle show if the act is unusual or very popular.
"Stoplight performers" present their act and get contributions from vehicle occupants on a crosswalk while the traffic lights are red. A variety of disciplines can be used in such format (juggling, break dancing, even magic tricks). Because of the short period of time available to them, stoplight performers must have a very brief, condensed routine. This form is seen more commonly in Latin America than elsewhere.
Buskers collect donations and tips from the public in a variety of containers and by different methods depending on the type of busking they are performing. For walk by acts their instrument case or a special can or box is often used. For circle shows the performer will typically collect money at the end of the show, although some performers will also collect during the show to ensure all audience members have had a chance to show appreciation for their skills. Sometimes a performer will employ a ''bottler'', ''hat man'', or ''pitch man'' to collect money from the audience. The term ''bottler'' is a British term which originated following the use of the top half of a bottle to collect money. The bottle had a leather flap inserted in the bottle neck and a leather pouch attached. This design allowed coins to be put in the bottle but not allow them to be removed easily without the coins jingling against the glass. The first use of such contrivances was recorded by the famous Punch and Judy
troupe of puppeteers in early Victorian times.
[Somerville, Chris (1997]
Who is Mr Punch
''punchandjudy.com''. Chris Somerville. Retrieved 2010-06-14.
Bottling itself can be an art form, and the difference between a good and a bad bottler can be crucial to the amount of money earned on a pitch. A good bottler is able to encourage audience members to give money. A bottler usually gets a cut of the money made on the pitch. Prior to the 20th century, it was common for buskers to use a trained monkey as a bottler. That practice has diminished or ceased in many countries due to changes in social attitudes and animal control laws. However some modern buskers use a device known as monkey stick
which is a long stick with bottle caps or small cymbals attached to make a noise before a show or prior to making a collection.
The place where a performance occurs is called a "pitch". A good pitch can be the key to success as a busker. An act that might make money at one place and time may not work at all in another setting. Popular pitches tend to be public places with large volumes of pedestrian traffic, high visibility, low background noise and as few elements of interference as possible. Good locations may include tourist spots, popular parks, entertainment districts including many restaurants, cafés, bars and pubs and theaters, subways
and bus stops, outside the entrances to large concerts and sporting events, almost any plaza
or town square
as well as zócalo
s in Latin America and piazza
s in other regions. Other places include shopping malls, strip malls, and outside supermarkets, although permission is usually required from management for these.
In her book, ''Underground Harmonies: Music and Politics in the Subways of New York'', Susie J. Tanenbaum examined how the adage "Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast" plays out in regards to busking. Her sociological studies showed that in areas where buskers regularly perform, crime rates tended to go down, and that those with higher education attainment tended to have a more positive view of buskers than did those of lesser educational attainment.
[Tanenbaum, Susie, J. (1995)]
Underground Harmonies: Music and Politics in the Subways of New York.
''Google books''; Cornell University Press.
Some cities encourage busking in particular areas,
giving preference to city government-approved buskers and even publishing schedules of performances.
[MTA: Arts for Transit: Music Under New York](_blank)
''mta.info''; Metropolitan Transportation Authority, New York. Retrieved 2016-07-15.
Many cities in the United States have particular areas known to be popular spots for buskers. Performers are found at many locations like Mallory Square in Key West
, in New Orleans
, in New York around Central Park
, Washington Square
, and the subway systems, in San Francisco, in Washington, D.C. around the transit centers, in Los Angeles around Venice Beach
, the Santa Monica Third Street Promenade
, and the Hollywood area, in Chicago on Maxwell Street
, in the Delmar Loop
district of St. Louis
, and many other locations throughout the US.
Busking is still quite common in Scotland, Ireland, and England with musicians and other street performers of varying talent levels.
The first recorded instances of laws affecting buskers were in ancient Rome
in 462 BC. The Law of the Twelve Tables
made it a crime to sing about or make parodies of the government or its officials in public places; the penalty was death. Louis the Pious
'' and ''scurrae
'', which included all entertainers without noble protection, from the privilege of justice". In 1530 Henry VIII
ordered the licensing of minstrels and players, fortune-tellers, pardoners and fencers, as well as beggars who could not work. If they did not obey they could be whipped on two consecutive days.
In the United States under constitutional law
and most European common law
, the protection of artistic free speech
extends to busking. In the U.S. and many countries, the designated places for free speech behavior are the public park
s, streets, sidewalk
s and town square
s or plaza
s. Under certain circumstances even private property may be open to buskers, particularly if it is open to the general public and busking does not interfere with its function and management allows it or other forms of free speech behaviors or has a history of doing so.
[Berger v. Seattle, C03-3238JLR](_blank)
(PDF). Decision, U.S. District Court, Western District of WA at Seattle, 22 April 2004. Retrieved 2010-06-11.
While there is no universal code of conduct
for buskers, there are common law practices which buskers must conform to. Most jurisdictions have corresponding statutory law
. In the UK busking regulation is not universal with most laws (if there are any) being governed by local councils. Some towns in the British Isles limit the licenses issued to bagpipers because of the volume and difficulty of the instrument. In Great Britain places requiring licenses for buskers may also require auditions of anyone applying for a busking license. Oxford City Council have decided to enact a public spaces protection order
. Some venues that do not regulate busking may still ask performers to abide by voluntary rules. Some places require a special permit
to use electronically amplified sound and may have limits on the volume
of sound produced. It is common law that buskers or others should not impede pedestrian traffic flow, block or otherwise obstruct entrances or exits, or do things that endanger
the public. It is common law that any disturbing or noisy behaviors may not be conducted after certain hours in the night. These curfew limitations vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. It is common law that "performing blue" (i.e. using material that is sexually explicit or any vulgar or obscene remarks or gestures) is generally prohibited unless performing for an adults-only environment such as in a bar or pub.
In London, busking is prohibited in the entire area of the City of London. The London Underground provides busking permits in tube stations. Most London boroughs do not license busking, but they have optional powers, under the London Local Authorities Act 2000
, if there is sufficient reason to do so. Where these powers have not been adopted, councils can rely on other legislation including the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to deal with noise nuisance from buskers and the Highways Act to deal with obstructions. Camden Council is currently looking into further options to control the problem of nuisance buskers and the playing of amplified music to the detriment of local residents and businesses.
Buskers may find themselves targeted by thieves due to the very open and public nature of their craft. Buskers may have their earnings, instruments or props stolen. One particular technique that thieves use against buskers is to pretend to make a donation while actually taking money out instead, a practice known as "dipping" or "skimming". George Burns
described his days as a youthful busker this way:
[The Ultimate Cigar Aficionado: Ninety-eight-year-old George Burns Shares Memories of His Life]
, article and interview by Cigar Aficionado Online
_playing_a_grand_piano_in_[[Washington_Square_Park,_New_York_City.html" style="text-decoration: none;"class="mw-redirect" title="Washington Square Park">Colin Huggins playing a grand piano in [[Washington Square Park, New York City">Washington Square Park">Colin Huggins playing a grand piano in [[Washington Square Park, New York City
*[[5 Seconds of Summer, Australian pop rock band. Prior to achieving international fame, the band busked in [[Rouse Hill, New South Wales|Rouse Hill and other parts of [[Sydney.
*[[Abby the Spoon Lady is a professional spoon player, street performer, and busking
advocate who lives in Asheville, NC.
started street dancing to make money and was recruited for the St. Louis Chorus vaudeville
show at the age of 15, which started her dancing career.
, a noted classical violinist, posed as a busker in the L'Enfant Plaza
Metro station in Washington, D.C.
at rush hour in 2007, as part of a feature in ''The Washington Post
''. In the 45 minutes Bell played, only seven people out of over a thousand who passed by stopped to watch, and he took in just over $32. Gene Weingarten
later won a Pulitzer Prize
for the story.
* Catfish the Bottleman
a well known busker from Sydney, Australia, so inspired Van McCann of Catfish and the Bottlemen
that he named his band after him. He watched him perform as a child and said that it was his first memory of music.
began her career busking in Harvard Square
in Cambridge, Massachusetts
, former singer for Soul Coughing
, released ''Busking
'', which contains 12 tracks from a 2007 busking performance in the 14th Street subway station
in New York City.
has been known to busk and video footage of him busking has been made available on YouTube, including a full acoustic cover of Queen
's "Bohemian Rhapsody
, the American inventor and statesman, was a street performer. He composed songs, poetry and prose about the current events and went out in public and performed them. He would then sell printed copies of them to the public. He was dissuaded from busking by his father who convinced him it was not worth the stigmas that some people attach to it. It was this experience that helped form his beliefs in free speech, which he wrote about in his journals.
, the British popera
quartet, performed as buskers across London during their college days.
, former singer for Blind Melon
, was known to busk all over the U.S.
, classical pianist, performs on a Grand Piano in Washington Square Park
and other parks in Greenwich Village
, New York City
was a street performer when he founded the Cirque du Soleil
theatrical company in 1984.
, developing a passion for Celtic music, learned to play the Celtic harp
and began busking at various places, including St. Lawrence Market in Toronto
in order to earn money to record her first album.
was a celebrated street musician known as Seattle's "Tuba Man", who busked outside the city's various sports and performing arts venues. In 2008, he was killed by attackers who were attempting to rob him.
*Sterling Magee and Adam Gussow
, AKA Satan and Adam
, were busking on 125th Street
in Harlem, New York City, in the summer of 1987 when the members of U2
, accompanied by a film crew, paused to watch the blues duo. The scene later appeared in the film ''Rattle and Hum
used to busk near the London Underground
, performing songs such as '39
, the singer-songwriter, recorded an entire album down in the Boston Subway
, where he was a regular busker. In most cases, songs were recorded in one or two takes.
Myles won the BBC Radio 5 Live Busker of the Year competition in 2005 and has gone on to sign a recording contract with Decca. Her debut album is due for release in September 2012.
, a famous Blues musician and harp player, has busked as "Brooklyn Slim" on the Venice Boardwalk to try out new material. Oscher, a two time W.C Handy Award
winner, was the harp player for Muddy Waters
and his band in the latter 1960s and early 1970s. He currently performs at blues festivals in the U.S. and internationally.
who can be seen in movies such as ''Dummy
'' and heard on many movie soundtracks has been playing the musical saw
in the New York City subway since 1994.
*Alice Tan Ridley
, busked in New York City subway stations for 30 years; semi-finalist in ''America's Got Talent
'', mother of Gabourey Sidibe
*Rodrigo y Gabriela
, began their career by busking in Dublin, Ireland.
*Peg Leg Sam
, a famous harmonica player from South Carolina, preferred busking over all other forms/venues. His most requested song was "John Henry
performed in the streets of Portland, Oregon, and subsequently joined boy band Why Don't We
*Ketch Secor, whose group Old Crow Medicine Show
started with busking and remains committed to it, has said: "People ... have short attention spans. ... So if you can get 'em to stop ... if you can get 'em to listen with a song, then you've got yourself a keeper."
*The Piccadilly Rats
, street performance group from Manchester, England
, street band in New Orleans
began hanging around folk singer Wizz Jones
and busking, at Leicester Square
and other London spots in 1962.
[Ewbank and Hildred, ''Rod Stewart: The New Biography'', pp. 24–28.]
On several trips over the next 18 months Jones and Stewart took their act to Brighton
and then to Paris, sleeping under bridges over the River Seine
, and then finally to Barcelona
Finally this resulted in Stewart being rounded up and deported from Spain for vagrancy
, an Australian singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who busked on the streets of Melbourne.
, a popular Scottish singer, has been recorded busking in Glasgow.
, former saxophonist with Hawkwind
and Inner City Unit
, continues to busk regularly in the streets of his adopted hometown Cardigan
members Marc Bolan
and Steve Peregrin Took
first performed as an acoustic guitar/bongos duo when they went busking together in Hyde Park
in summer 1967 after their electric equipment had been confiscated by Track Records
and their two bandmates had both left. In this acoustic format, the duo would go on to release three albums.
were discovered by James Honeyman-Scott
(of The Pretenders
) on 23 August 1981, when the band was busking on a street corner in front of the Oriental Theatre
, the Milwaukee
venue that The Pretenders
would be playing later that night. Chrissie Hynde
invited them to play a brief acoustic set after the opening act.
, decorated Indian folk–Lavani
artist busked with her mother as a child.
at one time busked on the streets of Christchurch, New Zealand.
[Hayley Westenra Biography]
''askmen.com''; IGN Entertainment.
, the singer of the band Can
, was found by band members Czukay and Liebezeit busking outside a Munich
café and was asked to perform with the band that same night.
, a performer in Portland, Oregon, who is known for playing the bagpipes on a unicycle.
, a busker in Boston, Massachusetts, who wears a bear suit and plays a keytar.
*Tones and I
, an Australian indie pop singer-songwriter and musician.
, an English singer and songwriter, known as the "king of the buskers". Achieved unexpected commercial success in the UK and Europe in the late 1960s with the songs "Rosie", "Blue Eyes" and "Breakfast On Pluto".
File:Malabarista de Rua.jpg|Street performer using a fire devilstick in São Paulo, Brazil
File:Street drummer in Portland, Oregon.webm|Street drummer performing outside Pioneer Place in Portland, Oregon
File:Street Musician North Fourth Street Ann Arbor Michigan.JPG|Street musician playing congas, Ann Arbor, Michigan
*List of circus skills
*List of busking locations
*Music Under New York
OrganisationsWorld Street Music – international project about street musiciansBusker Central
Calendar of worldwide busking eventsNational Association of Street Artists UKStreet ArtsPhotographs of buskers around the world
by Tudor ApMadocThe Busking Project
celebrating and supporting buskers across the world.
"Striving to make music under the NYC streets"
Daniel Strieff and Jon Sweeney. 24 August 2004. MSNBC
"What the ailing record industry can learn from a successful subway musician"
Nicholas Thompson. December 2003. ''Washington Monthly
"The Real Piano Man"
Steven Kurutz, 30 August 2008. ''The New York Times
* Bennett, Elizabeth, and McKay, George. 2019. From Brass Bands to Buskers: Street Music in the UK.
' Norwich: AHRC/UEA. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.18521.98408
Category:Occupations in music
Category:Articles containing video clips