Busker not content with Seaport auditions

The Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market is giving buskers a chance to audition for a spot to perform, but the call has drawn criticism from street performers.

By Linea Volkering

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Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market will be holding auditions for buskers on March 19th.

Halifax musician Will Fordham is unimpressed with the new Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market advertisement, that welcomes buskers to audition for a performance spot on the market’s busiest days.

The market is holding auditions on March 19. Those selected will be allotted a slot to perform on the weekends or during peak vendor and cruise ship seasons. The slots are unpaid but the option to draw in donations from the public remains.

Fordham began busking with his brother, Peter, at the old Historic Farmers’ Market in 2008. He said that the only qualification at the time was to simply show up, which made for some early mornings.

“When we first started going there, we woke up at seven,” says Fordham. “Then eventually we woke up at six, at five then four, for a long time we were waking up at four every Saturday morning, kind of ditching our Friday nights in high school just to go to bed to get up at four o’clock to get a spot.”

Traditionally, buskers are recognized as informal street performers who set up and play music in public areas. For many, it is a way to make money from people passing by.

Fordham feels that the Seaport Market’s implementation of time slots and auditions has robbed market busker performances of their spontaneous, flexible and competitive nature, something he believes to be crucial to the busking experience.

“I think at that point you’re not a busker.”

Fordham was 17 years old when he began busking and believed it to be a rite of passage as a musician.

“I think there was a lot to say about sort of opening it up and letting people do it if they want. And if they’re bad, then that’s too bad, they get better by being able to play,” he says.

“That was how I learned to perform, was playing hours at the market. I wouldn’t have learned otherwise.”

Auditions might be helpful

Lane Farguson, Communications Advisor for the Halifax Port Authority, says that the audition process is intended to contribute to a consistent and positive experience.

“This is basically to help to ensure that we are able to put the right busker into the right space within the market. One of the biggest things that buskers help to contribute to the market is atmosphere,” he says.

Farguson thinks that the right busker in the right environment creates the best experience for both customers and musicians. “It’s something they appreciate, and it shows,” he says. “You can see it on (their) faces.”

In addition to the new busking plans, the market is moving toward a system where there will be no amplified sound within the market. To compensate, Farguson says  there will eventually be a designated outdoor performance area where arrangements can be made for amplified performances.

Aurelie Guillaume, an employee at Noggins Corner Farm Market, one of the market’s vendors, says that the organized busking routine of the Seaport market does help alleviate tensions between performers.

“I think it organizes things and gives everybody a chance to have their time,” she says.

Guillaume also notes that the repetition of regular performers in time slots allows for a sense of familiarity and quality. Every weekend, she expects someone in the spot across from her booth.

Designated busker spot across from Guillaume's vendor table.
Designated busker spot seen from Guillaume’s table.

“It makes it so much better, so much happier and the customers are happy and you see all the little kids dancing here. So you have a little show, it’s really nice. It makes a really great atmosphere,” she says.

Regular weekend visiter Caitlin Leavitt, agrees with the market’s announcement to audition buskers before they play.

“I definitely think there is some benefit [to auditions] just because you can always go downtown and there’s someone playing music trying to find money,” Leavitt says. “It’s not that they’re bad, it’s just not always as enjoyable. Whereas, if there are auditions, you know the people are going to be musically talented. It will be pleasant to listen to.”

Leavitt admits that she does not always notice every individual market performer, but she says the music improves the relaxing yet lively atmosphere of the market and fits in well with the overall local aesthetic.

Music will prevail

She believes it shows a lot of the city’s style, especially to tourists, since Halifax is packed with live music everywhere you go.

“I think it shows a lot of what Halifax has to offer because music is a big part of the Halifax experience,” Leavitt says.

Will Fordham says that, despite the changing locations, changing rules and changing roles for buskers at the market, almost everyone who busks, plays for the love of music. He thinks the love of music will overcome over the rare negative comments made towards it.

“It’s always nice to have people listen to your music, even if someone doesn’t have money or doesn’t want to give you money, it’s totally worth sticking around and listening because it’s greatly appreciated.”

Auditions are open to anyone interested, and all types of music will be considered.