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The Fifth Course

First Time Busking

Rating: 1 votes, 4.00 average.
Matt and I went to the Cambridge market square yesterday afternoon. Mandolin and guitar in tow, we walked through it twice scouting busking locations. One by one they were taken up by more experienced and decisive buskers. We finally settled upon the southwest corner, near a coffee shop and some likely looking kiosks.

I set out the mandolin case (my breast-cancer-awareness pink gig bag) and tuned up my Vessel F5. Matt tugged out the Rainsong and waited.

That space of time between finding a spot and starting to play was an interesting and slightly uncomfortable one for me. I have never busked before. I have never stopped on a spot in the street (or on a sidewalk), pulled out an instrument, and started playing with the expectation that people will feel like listening to me. So it took more than a moment to screw up my courage. When I was ready, we commenced to playing.

Some time after starting, I realized our first mistake. No amplification. The market square lacks automobile traffic, but it's a busy place and some power would have been nice. Our effective audience range was very small. People needed to come in close to catch everything, and that just did not work to draw an audience.

The wind at our backs kept us from being drowned out by amplified competition, but that's only because no one was playing behind us. And that wind was and indication of our second mistake.

The buildings in Cambridge are old. The first college at Cambridge University was built in the 1300s. Most of the buildings in town are not that old, but some of the late 18th century buildings still extant in Cambridge surround the market square and its adjacent streets. Those adjacent streets are also quite narrow by American standards of street widths. So sound can be effectively amplified if you pick the right spot.

As I said Matt and I had the wind at our backs and the market square in front. That was way too much open air for an unamplified duo. Our instruments and voices were picked up by the wind and carried away. If we had chosen a spot 2 blocks away in front of an empty store front, the configuration of buildings and the width of the street would have effectively amplified us.

My wife says, "Only people who don't try never make mistakes." Live and learn. I'll pick a better location next time!


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Tags: busking
Acoustic Adventures , Gigging


  1. JeffD's Avatar
    I am heartened that you are taking street musicianship seriously. Its an art form that, like most other endeavors of value, requires specific talents, and skills, and knowledge, as well as courage, tenacity, and showmanship.
  2. Gelsenbury's Avatar
    Coincidentally, I also ended up "busking" (involuntarily) this August ... your post reminded me that I should write a blog entry about this!

    My last visit to Cambridge was a year ago. I wish I had caught your performance!