Updated: Jun 6
For those who don't know, I was a full-time street musician in Washington, DC from early 2010 through 2014. A lot happened while playing harp on the streets of DC in those four years- some big events, but mostly small, cumulative experiences. The whole busking experience changed me for the better forever. I am still seeing positive effects from lessons learned during that time, and I firmly believe it was part of my path from the beginning to have those years playing music on the streets of DC, and that everyone who passed by was meant to hear my music. I will do my best here to share some stories with those who are interested in reading, generally in no particular order. Here goes...
How did I get the idea to be a busker?
I moved to Front Royal, VA from my home town of Lynchburg, VA after securing a job as a silver smith's apprentice (that's another story) in early 2010, and there was a music conference at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh that I wanted to attend that summer. I didn't know how I could afford it, especially since I lost my job just two months after moving to NOVA. In a conversation with a friend, he mentioned how he and a few friends were bored at Union Station in DC once, and they began to sing to pass the time. Passers by began throwing money at them, and that's how they accidentally busked that day. I thought that sounded cool.
I had no idea how to ride the DC metro, or even where to try playing first, but I remember one of the first places I played was L'Enfant Plaza station. I parked at the Vienna/Fairfax metro station and lugged my Celtic harp in its weird, bulky case onto the metro, ignoring the sideways glances from passengers. The feeling of riding the metro alone was intoxicating- I had never done something so adventurous before (the reason for that is another story as well). Once I got to L'Enfant Plaza station, I found a spot outside where there was a good flow of pedestrian traffic heading into the station, set up the harp, and set out my hat. Yep, I had a hat. I went through two hats as a busker, the first one being a squashy black wool cloche which was stolen a couple years in and was replaced by a black fedora. Unlike most of the more often seen (and more portable) busking instruments who use their cases to collect tips, a harp case is way too big to flop out in front to do that job.
Anyway, It was a beautiful, sunny day. At first, it was terribly embarrassing to play, and even after a few years of doing it, I never quite got over that initial embarrassment I always felt during the first few minutes after starting to play, and while setting up my instrument on the street as curious people pretended not to notice. There's something extra vulnerable about intentionally putting your music out there for people who didn't pay to hear you, as they would if they paid for tickets to a concert. But I warmed up to it, and once people read the sign I had made, saying I was raising money to attend a music conference, they were very generous. In just a couple days, I had made enough money to attend the conference. It was an incredible feeling, making a few hundred dollars over a couple of days by playing music on the street. After that conference, I just kept busking.
Stay tuned for more stories- from pirates, thieves, and inspiring squirrels, to largest/most memorable tips, busking logs, and the observations of a bored, people-watching busker!