Folklife 2013

Last week I left my bike in Florida and flew from Orlando up to Seattle to surprise my family and to work the Folklife Festival. It was my first festival as a street performer last year, and I wanted to come back and maintain my presence in the Northwest. I would’ve told you about it earlier, but it would’ve ruined the surprise.

The first day I left Seattle last September, I purchased a new helmet a few hours out of town. It was a good fit, but after the first week or so I started to feel pressure on my forehead. Wearing the helmet several hours a day, sometimes traveling at 75mph, the pressure turned into a formidable sore spot. I’m not certain if my forehead has always been this way, but after 10k miles of riding it seems as though the force of the wind on my helmet has created a small flat spot on the top-center of my forehead.

I’m on this adventure to see how I react to unforeseen circumstances. I want to know, first hand, just how capable I really am. I strive to be the most adaptive human I can be, which means learning how to overcome obstacles. The best way to get good at something is to just simply go out and do it, so I’ve set the continental United States as my obstacle course, and thrown myself into it with fairly little preparation. I’ve met many people along the way that are living traditional lifestyles, and most of them can not even fathom the idea of setting out to accomplish an objective without knowing exactly how and when they were going to do so. “What if you run out of money?” is the question I get the most. Many times I’ve imagined me breaking down somewhere, and spending the rest of my cash fixing the bike, but still not having enough to make it out. What would I do then? Well, that’s exactly the kind of question I’ve set out to find the answer to. I prefer to openly embrace the unpredictability of life. To me, the Unknown is a friend, not a foe.

My flattened forehead ensures that when (not if, when) I fall facedown onto the ground, I’ll be comfortable with the discomfort. I imagine myself becoming an individual that has a comfort zone that extends beyond what’s comfortable. You don’t make a diamond by setting coal on a pillow. My attitude towards adversity I credit mostly to street performing — I’ve never failed at anything more, but now there is nothing that I’m better at. Sometimes a slippery start is a necessary recipe part.

The ability to work while traveling is one of the best parts of being a street performer, and it’s why I chose magic as the first of the arts I was going to focus on. Generally, wherever there are crowds in public, buskers can make a living. I’m traveling cross-country now to get a glimpse of where I can work what time of year, and what it’s like in different locations. With my experience of flying back to Seattle for Folklife Festival, I’m realizing that the merit of a location is largely dependent on the mindset of the people that frequent there.

Seattle is pretty laid back..

Seattle is pretty laid back..

I absolutely love the people of the NW. The more I travel, the more appreciation I have for my home state, the classic “Don’t know what ya got ’til it’s gone” motif. On the whole, Northwesterners tend to be more down to earth, more conscious, more liberal, and more appreciative of the arts. In New Orleans, it’s a world-wide grab-bag of tourists with a light sprinkling of locals. My favorite part about working New Orleans is that since it is such is a global city, you never, ever knew who you were talking to. In Florida, it seemed to be more conservatives, a little slower to laugh and a lot quicker to walk.

 

In Clearwater Beach, FL, I was handcuffed, called a bum, and given an Open Container of Alcohol ticket for my empty, rinsed out and corked bottle of wine. At Folklife in Seattle, there is an entire performers hospitality building, with free refreshments, snacks, discounted beer, and a free bag check. The artists, mostly musicians, sit and converse around tables inside, and gather in small jams in the area outside the building. As a busker, I merely gave my information to a staff member, was given a button, and allowed access. In my experience thus far as a street performer in the U.S., this is practically unprecedented treatment. This culture has a tendency to look down on street performers, misconstruing them as glorified beggars (bums, as the Clearwater cop said). Granted, there were a TON of crusty street-kids that seemed to be abusing the hospitality system, registering as buskers to get access to the food and drinks. But on the whole, the hospitality building created a beautiful place for artists to congregate. This is an example of how the NW mindset varies from other regions throughout the country; they appreciate what we do. I’ve heard that in Europe, street performers are also appreciated much more, and they are respected as a reflection of the society as a whole. I can’t wait to take a trip across the pond to find out for myself.

I like to think of life like a story. You’re here to write a myth, a legacy that will be remembered for an indeterminate amount of time, and then inevitably forgotten. I believe it’s important to get a good idea what the main character is like, what settings the story takes place in, what the supporting characters are like.

You do not write this story alone, and it’s important to surround yourself with a good group of pens.

I believe that your geography and your biology are intimately connected in a reciprocatory relationship. If you live in Los Angeles your whole life, you are probably going to act like someone that lives in L.A. If you spend all of your free time with a friend that prefers not to get rained on, then you will likely never know the joy of dancing in the rain. Your peers are the stones upon which the blade of your character is sharpened. They should compel you to be the best person you can possibly be. Personally, I love it when friends call me out on my bullshit. I’ve found that simply through the act of conversing, it forces me to formulate my thoughts into concrete words, which puts the idea plainly right in front of my face. I then get the opportunity to LOOK at the idea, instead of simply thinking it. Most of my epiphany’s happen when I hear something that comes out of my own mouth. Sometimes though, I don’t see my own illusions, but a friend or a stranger does. Those bold enough to call me out on it are the ones that force me to take a second look at myself. If I make it past my ego without getting too offended, then I am usually inspired by their honesty, and begin striving towards improvement.

If your friends fly is down at a cocktail party, you may embarrass them by pointing it out, but in the long run, you’re doing them a favor.

There are several political and societal jokes in my show. Though they are not always received well (especially in conservative regions), I keep them there because I believe this country has its fly down, and most of the world is laughing. I’m learning to wrap these ideas up in a joke or a gag, because a good sense of humor can make any situation bearable. True change happens on an individual level, and if only one person out of an audience of fifty changes their thinking because of something I said, then to me, it’s worth the other 49 not laughing.

Folklife has been a fantastic reminder of why I do what I do for a living. Yes, it can be difficult, unpredictable, and at times, more hassle than it may seem worth. But there is an unquantifiable quality to working with the emotions of strangers. I help put smiles on the faces of crowds of people, elevating their moods and unifying them for a brief moment of fun. I’m an escape artist; I don’t free myself from chains, but I can help provide strangers with a brief escape from the straightjacket of the daily grind. When someone tells me I just brightened their entire day, how do you put that into dollar form? There are so many non-finance related factors that go into my current career choice. Yesterday alone I had at least five different children run up to me and give me a huge hug after a show. How much imaginary paper currency is that worth? My job is misunderstood by many, but the fact that I’ve lived on street magic for a full year says that it’s appreciated by many, many more. People like that Clearwater cop may see me as a bum, but I know that I am a community figure, 100% committed to co-creating laughter, joy, and excitement with friends I haven’t met yet.

The Ten Man Brass Band tearing it up at Folklife

The Ten Man Brass Band tearing it up at Folklife

Today is my last day at Folklife, second-to-last day of my visit home. On Wednesday I fly back to Orlando to continue traversing the length of America.

I’m up to my mohawk in gratitude <3