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Friday, April 12, 2024

The art of the yo-yo at this year’s Halifax Busker Festival

Yo-Yo Guy (aka John Higby) is one of the many acts at this year's Halifax Busker Festival, taking place on the Halifax and Dartmouth waterfronts from August 2-7.

Returning to the Halifax and Dartmouth waterfronts from August 2-7, the 2023 Halifax Busker Festival features a diverse group of street performers.

My grandpa gave me a yo-yo and showed me a few tricks, and I just stuck with it. – John Higby (aka Yo-Yo Guy)

From magicians to hula hoop artists and strongmen to breakdancers, this year’s line-up features acts from around the world and right here at home.

Among them is Boston-based John Higby. Better known as the Yo-Yo Guy, like many of the acts this year, the Guinness World Record holder and world champion makes a return engagement to BuskerFest after making his first appearance in Halifax in 1997.

Initially introduced to the yo-yo at eleven, Higby has continued to hone his skills ever since.

“My grandpa gave me a yo-yo and showed me a few tricks, and I just stuck with it,” says Higby. “He knew how to make it work somewhat, like how to do ‘walk the dog,’ but he was a piano tuner, so he was more into music, but he had an old yo-yo that became the first yo-yo I ever got.”

First performing at age seventeen while in high school, Higby’s first foray into the busker world came after answering an ad to participate in the Denver Busker Festival. He hasn’t looked back, now travelling the globe to other festivals and branching out into performances in schools and theatres.

Beyond the world records, which include the most matches lit and coins knocked off a person’s ear with a yo-yo in a minute, highlights in Higby’s career have included a 2017 appearance on the reboot of the television variety/game show, The Gong Show, and a trip Down Under.

The Gong Show was pretty fun, but I did the festival in Christchurch, New Zealand, and we got to do a show in the opera house with over a thousand people in the audience,” he says. “We got a standing ovation that was pretty memorable.”

Branching out in recent years, Higby is also a visual artist and, more recently, the author and illustrator of the children’s book Everybody Yo-Yo’s.

John Higby with his children's book, Everybody Yo-Yo's.
John Higby with his children’s book, Everybody Yo-Yo’s.

“I’ve always been an artist,” he says. “I do a lot of murals and things like that, but I’ve been working on this book for a couple of years, and it’s great to combine my two talents.”

And while Higby has branched out from strictly performing, he is definitely in ‘the zone’ when showing what he can do, with his yo-yo never too far.

“I love it because you can have it in your pocket, and I try to take it wherever I go,” he says. “I was at the post office this morning and practiced a little there. It’s definitely a good way to connect with people, even in countries where I don’t speak the language.”

He also says the yo-yo is something that easily connects with people.

“Everybody can relate to the yo-yo no matter what age you are, as most people have tried one in their lifetime,” he says. “I do over a hundred different tricks, but I also use a lot of the audience in the show, which always makes it fun.”

The 2023 Halifax Busker Festival takes place on the Halifax and Dartmouth waterfronts from August 2-7. Visit buskers.ca for more information.

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