Now in its 10th year, BuskerFest — or just busking in general — was something of a novelty when it first began. There was little of it happening in Fort Wayne, and those exposed to it in larger cities likely saw someone with a guitar and an open case for tips.
Its first installment, planned then as it is now by the Downtown Improvement District, was just one event in many that were designed to bring people downtown. With the arrival of Parkview Field just a couple years before, hanging out downtown in the evenings and on weekends was still in its infancy for many Fort Wayne residents, and BuskerFest was an interesting and different way to draw people to the streets of downtown for hours of free family fun.
Now, BuskerFest is beyond a novelty or curiosity but is in fact an event in its own right, something that performers and the community look forward to each summer. It proves that when the time has come for an idea to take off, it generally will.
Six Hours of entertainment
“Ten years ago, I’m not sure if anyone knew what a busker was,” said Rick Zolman, events and programming manager for the Downtown Improvement District. “Now it’s become its own attraction. It’s a point of destination, and people are afraid they’ll miss something if they don’t go.”
BuskerFest has provided an education for us all. It turns out that busking is more than just musicians trying to drum up a little extra income. It entails a tremendous range of talents and performances, and many of those will be on display at this year’s BuskerFest.
But it also taught us a new language, and we now know that the stage on which the performers busk is called a “pitch.” There will be three pitches on the streets of Fort Wayne on June 29, providing six hours of entertainment.
“There is programming on three separate pitches,” Zolman said. “The Busker Central Pitch is on the corner of Wayne and Calhoun while the Loud and Local Music Pitch is on the corner of Berry and Calhoun. We’ll start off at 4 at the Plaza Pitch which is on the plaza of the Indiana & Michigan Power Center Plaza.”
With a mix of local and national talent on the schedule (a full list is available at BuskerFestFW.com), there is a special group that joins the fun this year.
“There are a ton of people visiting the city because of the International Jugglers Association conference that week,” Zolman said. “Visit Fort Wayne coordinated all of that, but they shared the details of BuskerFest with them, and they said they’d love to participate. We’ll have five or six of their performers coming for sure, but we expect many others to just pop up in true busker fashion.”
Planning, plus spontaneity
In fact, there’s a great deal of planning involved in readying BuskerFest each year, but there’s also a bit of spontaneity as well.
“It’ll be a combination,” Zolman said. “We’d love to have performers fill out the application on our website so we can add them to our email list so we can keep them up to date and keep everybody on the same page and safe. There are certain rules that we follow — for example, there are no ax throwers — and we hope everybody knows and aren’t surprised by them. Sometimes we will send out messages to be able to contact them again next year. But they can come down during BuskerFest and do their thing, put out their hat.”
In addition to the IJA, there will be another group taking part in the festivities for the first time.
“We’re excited to include the Jesters from the University of Saint Francis at 4 p.m. this year,” Zolman said. “They’ve been around since 1978 and have done so much to help people with different disabilities. We tried to book them last year, but it was a little late to book at that point. So in January we got in touch with the director of the Jesters, and we’re excited to include them in this event.
“We want to provide inclusiveness to BuskerFest as well as show off a really great local organization who have been helping people and performing for so many years. We think this is a huge deal and are very excited about it.”
From Dance to Stunts
Although you can expect plenty of music and juggling this year, other acts take the show to a different area altogether.
Markita will perform on the Busker Central Pitch at 4:30 and 7 p.m. with her act that includes fire eating, sword swallowing, and daring escapes. Allez-OOPS features Rob and Miss Jane, a pair of young performers who do a variety of magic and stunts at 5:30 and 8:30 p.m. Raq the Rivers brings bellydance to the Plaza Pitch at 8 p.m.
Finding the diverse performances, which includes the fire magic of Pyroscope to close the show from 9:30 until 10 p.m., is part of what DID has done for 10 years to keep BuskerFest as fresh and exciting as it was that very first time.
“This year, jugglers are our main theme because of the visit from IJA,” Zolman said. “But we keep a list of things that are happening at other shows. Our BuskerFest is modeled after one that takes place every September in Toronto, and we reach out consistently when we’ve heard about someone. We really want each BuskerFest to feel original and natural.”
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