The Dark Side of Street Performing

This article was published in Spacing magazine in Summer 2011. Photo via Flickr (CC).

During the winter months, Victoria’s Government Street remains quiet, calm, and decidedly unmusical. As you walk by heritage buildings, tourist stores and coffee shops, you will sometimes catch some canned music from one of the local pubs drifting by. Down the road you might hear the melodic wailing of the panhandler who cries out a tuneful “spare any change” as a mantra to anyone who will listen. Aside from that, the city retains its hushed Victorian charm. People go about their lives, working, living, sitting down for a coffee or stopping for a chat. It’s the sleepy small-town feeling that we locals know and love.

Then the summer comes, and the streets come to life. Soon they are filled with guitars, drums, saxophones, Zimbabwean marimbas, and – seriously? Is that Darth Vader playing the fiddle?

Yes, Victoria is renowned for its summer street music scene. From the marimba-whacking African dance bands to the man known as “Darth Fiddler,” tourists have plenty to delight in on any given day in the capital. These buskers define the sounds of Victoria in the summer – at least for the people who live and work somewhere else.

For some locals however, these street performers are merely background noise, or worse: a distraction. Licensing regulations for buskers have tightened up in recent years due to complaints from workers who found that the party-like atmosphere created by buskers interfered with getting things done at work. But those locals are missing something: the music is not for us. It’s an indispensable part of the big tourism machine keeps this city running, and we all know that without that machine we’d be sunk.

From May to August, the city of Victoria breathes in time with the cruise ship schedules, and so do its buskers. They know when the boats come in and where the tourists get off. And they know what kind of music the tourists like too. Their music may be gimmicky and repetitive; some might even find it annoying, but they know their audience as any good musician does.

Then when the boats stop coming in, the buskers make their seasonal retreat, and the city returns to its quiet, lazy atmosphere. And we locals are left once again to contemplate our quaint surroundings in silence.