Busking

I was sitting beside the “Venus de Cello”.

There were exactly two loonies and two pieces of bark to weigh down the one piece of paper that had been dropped into my guitar case as it sat in front of me.

The “Venus de Cello” is one of the art installations the City of Nelson has rented for the summer to display along Baker Street. Downtown always has such a vibrant art scene going on. The art installations are another manifestation of the colours and sounds that adorn the bustling centre. These stationary renditions of the presence of art aren’t the only intriguing aspects of downtown Nelson.

I am ever amazed at the sheer amount of people in and around the downtown core. The city itself has a population of around 10 000. Yes, it serves the needs of the surrounding communities and yes, it’s B.C. so those surrounding communities have a much higher population density than Alberta, but Coaldale has only 4000 less people than Nelson and yet is a veritable ghost-town in comparison. Sure, Coaldale is a mere bedroom community to the services and businesses available in Lethbridge but still – it’s dead compared to Nelson’s core.

What is it that makes Nelson so much more energetic and alive? Yes, it’s the art and yes, it’s the flourishing flora that began sprouting from the earth not only months ago but stayed alive all winter in this temperate zone. It’s the local businesses that are thriving in a place where big box stores are relegated to only a few numbers, randomly distributed throughout the city.

More than all of these *things* it’s the people that make them. A typical gathering in Nelson, whether it be the regular markets that shut down Baker street from traffic and fill it with stalls, walkers, and people interested in buying locally handcrafted goods or a pub on a weekend is likely to host a similar range of people.

There will be the same openminded and accepting cross-section of individuals that call Nelson home. People that speak to one another as they wander around town, strangers that are helpful and friendly and stop for a conversation in parking lots or while waiting for the light to indicate it’s time to walk across the street. It’s the people that create the vibrancy and allow the flow of life to move through them as they create life around them.

Public spaces in this town are an opportunity to continue the expression of individuality. That’s what the “Venus” is doing in her silent and stoic way – a limbless body in the shape of both woman and cello, placed in one of the many courtyard areas along baker. Places to eat al fresco in a restaurant along the way or places to sit and enjoy the blossoms on the trees exploding with sprain. Places for art and places for buskers.

I finally mustered up the resolve to strap my guitar onto my back and pedal down to Baker street. I dismounted, sidled my bike up to the concrete barrier between me and the road, pulled my bag and guitar off my shoulder, took a chug of water, and took a breath. I unzipped my black guitar case and threw it rather haphazardly in front of me.

It was as if the hesitation I was feeling inside was channeled solely in the placement of my case. It leaned in a little ways towards me turning into this safety net that could catch me in case I needed it to, offering me some element of support. What came to me, unconsciously or otherwise, were the marketing strategies that are necessary to be employed when busking on the street.

Numerous thoughts passed through me head. I could put a few coins out to kind of get the ball rolling. I could put the case further out, so that it didn’t nearly touch me on one side, making it easier for people to approach and drop a coin or two in. I could stand, giving myself the opportunity to look passersby in the eye and create more of a connection with others.

I thought about the continual struggle I have to bring myself forward and put myself out there. Well, busking alone on the street is certainly one way of doing that. Being willing to simply be who I am and do what I would be doing in my living room anyways was actually pretty liberating. Yes, I can do it. I can sit alongside “Venus de Cello” and rock out to some Bhajans, or devotional songs, while people wander past. And hey, a few might stop and express appreciation through word or note and a few might even throw some coins my way.

My busking adventure was a complete success, one that I plan to implement again in the future. I feel as though it helped dissolve distance between myself and others.

We’re all just people, after all, people on either side of a guitar with the common experience of life holding us together. While that experience will look incredibly different to everyone, on that day mine looked like me sharing music on the street.

I didn’t stay for too long, friends wandered past to chat and sing along and then a colourful bus drove by beckoning people and playing some enchanting blue grass music – so I hopped on. Yup, adventures abound in Nelson.

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