According to the website Busker Central, there are now over 150 busker festivals happening each year around the world, with more than twenty in Canada alone. But did you know the very first busker festival started right here in Halifax?
Now into its 33rd year, the Halifax Busker Festival returns to the waterfront for six days of pogo stick experts, contortionists, magicians, musicians, dancers, chainsaw jugglers, and more, across multiple stages.
What has kept the festival going for over three decades? According to Christina Edwards, event director for Premiere Entertainment Group who runs the festival, it is all about accessibility and variety.
“I think it’s because it is open and free to the public, so it’s so accessible to anybody,” says Edwards. “It’s not something you can see at a bar on a Saturday night, or at a concert hall. It’s so different than anything you’d normally see, where for one week every year we bring in artists from all over the world who have the most unique talents and specialties.”
Edwards also points out the Halifax Busker Festival is one of those rare entertainment options where you can watch a show and then you’re asked to pay.
In fact, Edwards tells us that besides a small travel allowance to get them to Halifax and accommodation during the festival, performers at the festival make their living as they do every day as street performers, by what audiences put in their hat at the end of a set.
The Halifax Busker Festival is one of those rare entertainment options where you can watch a show and then you’re asked to pay.
A curated festival of invited artists, choosing who will perform each year has become a much easier process over the years, where before the advent of the internet festival organizers would actually travel to scope out potential acts.
“Then came the world of VHS and performers would tape recordings of their sets and mail them to us,” explains Edwards. “Now, it’s just a matter of going online to see them.”
While the bulk of the acts these days come from applications directly to festival organizers, they are always on the look-out for unique talent to fill their yearly roster, including acts from such television shows as America’s Got Talent. The entire process of curating the acts for any given year can take up to five months to complete.
Along with the hundred or so applications received each year, to fill just twelve to fifteen spots, organizers are also not averse to bringing back favourites from prior years. This year the festival welcomes back contortionist and Australia’s Got Talent finalist, Alakazam.
“He is fan favourite who’s been coming to the festival for fifteen years probably and is such an incredible performer,” says Edwards. “No one gets the crowd going like Alakazam does.”
Another returning act are last year’s People’s Choice winners, the Montreal-based break-dancing group Break City All-Stars.
“They do a lot of work with street kids and it’s really exciting because of their messages of inclusiveness, and of art as a way to express yourself,” says Edwards.
But while the festival does welcome back some acts from year-to-year, Edwards says it is also important to give the artists a break and provide audiences with something new and fresh.
“There’s some artists who the fans love, and they want them back every single year, and we’ve done that,” she says. “But it’s rare that we’ll bring somebody back more than two years in a row.”
Case in point is Flowmotion Dance Company from Austria who will appear for the first time this year with their unique blend of contemporary dance, musical, acrobatics, martial arts, tricking and object manipulation.
“I’m really excited to see what they’re going to bring to the stage,” says Edwards.
More than just variety acts though, Edwards says the festival’s popular music stage will also return this year.
“We hire local Nova Scotia musicians to play that stage, so that adds another five or six artists that will be added to the roster,” she says.
The 33rd Annual Halifax Busker Festival takes place on the Halifax waterfront from July 31 through August 6. Visit buskers.ca for more information.