Celebrating One of the World’s Oldest Professions

If you’ve ever strolled downtown New Orleans, Nashville or San Francisco, you’re aware of how street performers—aka buskers—add to the cultural richness of those cities. This weekend, Salt Lake’s heart will thrum with a similar energy when more than 60 buskers descend on downtown as part of the third annual SLC Busker Fest

Busker/Street Performer playing his guitar on the sidewalk

“The lineup of performers for this year’s event is really the best we’ve had,” says Kim Angeli, owner of Primrose Productions, SLC Busker Fest presenter, which was held previously in 2018 and 2019. “I think it will not only be an amazing experience for attendees but a really valuable learning experience for local talent as well.”

Singing and/or playing an instrument is probably the most common form of busking. But the really cool part about this practice is how much more diverse its genres tend to be compared to what you’d typically see in a brick-and-mortar setting. In addition to musicians and vocalists, performers booked for SLC Busker Fest include sword swallowers, puppeteers, aerialists, mimes, jugglers, hula hoopers, lassoists, comedians and magicians.    

Acrobatic buskers/street performers

Busker Fest 2021 will be held on downtown Salt Lake City sidewalks and streets from 200 South to 400 South between Main and State streets on May 27 and 28 from 6 to 10 p.m., and May 29 from 4 to 10 p.m. This festive and eclectic event will span three pitches, or main performance areas—one on Exchange Place, another on Gallivan Avenue and a third on Main Street—and the Magic Corner, a space dedicated to magicians at 200 South and Main Street. Dozens of performers will also roam the Main Street corridor from 400 South to South Temple, which will be closed to vehicular traffic and open to pedestrians, dining and hanging out as part of the Downtown Alliance’s Open Streets.

Pro buskers booked to perform at SLC Busker Fest include Martika, a witty and engaging performer (who does motivational speaking on the side) specializing in sword swallowing, fire eating, barbed-wire hula hooping and more; Cate Great, a high-end circus acrobat, juggler and comedian; and professional mime and clown Beth Bird-Lonski, who will also host a few workshops while she’s in Salt Lake City. Not all of SLC Busker Fest performers hail from elsewhere, however; many live and perform right here in Utah, including singer, hula hooper and musician, Sarah Little Drum.

Two buskers/street performers on stilts interacting with the audience

Though most of the buskers booked to perform during SLC Busker Fest have, thanks to sponsorship from the Salt Lake Arts Council, will be compensated for their time, tipping performers is gratefully accepted. As far as how much attendees should tip performers, Angeli recommends considering your experience. “The tip I might give to someone I passed on the street singing might be different than what I’d give to, say, a puppeteer’s show that I watched for 30 minutes,” she says. Since most of us are a bit out of the habit of carrying cash, both ATMs and a change-making station will be available at the SLC Busker Fest information booth, located next to the Main Street pitch.               

In addition to this weekend’s SLC Busker Fest, Primrose Productions will host two other pop-up street performance events in June: a night of vaudeville at Sugar House’s Monument Plaza on June 3 from 6 to 9 p.m. and a series of acoustic music performances along the Jordan River Parkway, adjacent to Jorden Park, on June 17 from 6 to 9 p.m.

“The last year has been very difficult for both performing artists as well as those who miss seeing live performances,” Angeli said. “I think Busker Fest is a fantastic way to celebrate being able to finally get to enjoy culture and performing arts with other people again.”    

 

Written by Melissa Fields