The Great Busk: Celebrating the art of street performing

Sting was a busker. So was Benjamin Franklin. Soon you’ll be able to hear some of RVA’s buskers in one setting.

Long before Bill “Bojangles” Robinson soared to stardom–and was commemorated with a Richmond statue1–a five-year-old Robinson honed his talents by busking. The practice of performing in public for money, busking dates back to at least ancient Rome and has been practiced by Benjamin Franklin, Sting, and Bruce Springsteen, among others. This week, The Great Busk will showcase Richmond buskers.

“It’s something that transcends geography and culture and ethnicity…” said Spencer Turner, co-founder of the Virginia Center for Latin American Art (VACLAA) and co-organizer of The Great Busk. He said busking is the art of music and performance. “It’s also the art of getting folks to put their money where their applause is.”

Founded in 2012, the VACLAA aspires to “build bridges between groups of communities,” Turner said. The VACLAA views busking as a bridge builder. “Obviously music is one of the most universal means of having a cultural conversation.”

In the span of roughly two months, the VACLAA organized the event that’ll bring 20 local buskers to perform within the new Arts & Culture District in Jackson Ward. 

One performer is Roz Moret, known for playing outside of The Byrd Theatre. “She sort of became synonymous with Carytown,” Turner said. Other performers include Miramar, Lobo Marino, the Richmanian Ramblers, Professor Bless and the Dancing Madwoman, and others.

The buskers will each perform for roughly 15 minutes spanning 5:00 – 10:00 PM on both Friday and Saturday. The busker who earns the most money will earn the Bill “Bojangles” Robinson Great Busk Award along with a half-day recording session at Sound of Music Recording Studio. Local label 32 Bar Records plans to release a compilation album of all performances.

Before The Great Busk takes place, a panel of local musicians2 will take part in “Real Music, on the Real”, a discussion on how folk music has inspired each of their music. The panel will be hosted by WRIR DJ Carl Hamm and be held on Thursday at Candella Books + Gallery from 7:00 – 9:00 PM.

Several of those musicians participating in the panel will perform at Black Iris Gallery on Friday night from 10:00 PM – 2:00 AM following the first day of The Great Busk performances.

Turner said that VACLAA is also working to create a monthly busking night at Crossroads on Forest Hill Avenue. He hopes that the monthly events eventually bring buskers from all over the country, and that a growing word of mouth means next year’s busking event will include performers from beyond Richmond. “It’s an oral tradition, so there should be a lot of word of mouth,” he said.

But Turner said that Richmond has plenty of busking talent to entertain. “I want people to come away with an appreciation for the spontaneity and excitement of art and music that comes from the street, from folks all around them,” he said. “So we continue to broaden and define what is valuable as art.”

The Great Busk takes place this Friday and Saturday from 5:00 – 10:00 PM at Moore’s Auto Body & Paint Shop at 401. W. Broad Street.

  1. Located at Leigh and Adams streets, the intersection where Robinson funded a stop light after seeing children trying to cross the busy intersection. 
  2. Frederic Blasco, Marlysse Simmons, Rei Alvarez, Giustino Riccio, Barry Bless, Mikemetic, Nate Matthews, and Jonathan Vasser. 
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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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