I left New Orleans with a few hundred bucks and next-to-nothing for plans. I knew I was going to head to Florida for a bit, I knew I was going to visit my brother in Atlanta, my friend Austin in Nashville, and then meet up with a fellow KLR rider in Colorado. But in terms of timing, I was and still am freestyling.
The performer is only as good as the audience, & Folklife helped show me that I ought to actively seek out my type of audience. Going straight from dry-humored Florida into the open arms of my home town made me reconsider how much time I’ve allocated to the Sun State. I’ve wanted to connect with the ocean, but I have yet to find a quiet place I can do so. I was originally intending to go all the way to Key West, and there’s still a slim chance I might, but right now it’s looking like I’m going to cut the Florida portion of my trip short. It’s difficult for me to continue going the opposite direction from home, especially now that I’ve gotten a taste of the luscious greenery in the Pacific Northwest (I literally spent the entire first day back running around barefoot in the fields and forests at my parents house).
I landed in Orlando close to 7pm on Wednesday. The next pitch I’m looking at is Savannah, Georgia, but the signup day for permits is Wednesday, & it’s 250 miles North, meaning I won’t be able to work there for a week. I spent two nights just outside of Orlando in a Motel 6, which ran roughly $33 a night. I felt like I needed to recalibrate myself; I was a bit shocked to find myself across the country again. The week in Seattle felt almost surreal, a fleeting moment of familiarity after experiencing so much newness. Spending a week surrounded by family made the solitude feel a little startling, & I needed to resituate my load.
Yesterday I went back to Clearwater Beach. One of the many things that New Orleans taught me was that you can not judge a pitch until you’ve worked it several different ways. I barely did one show before I got arrested, and I’d heard too much good about Clearwater to write it off like that. Plus, I wasn’t going to let some jerk cop spoil Florida for me. So I went back, got myself clearance from the coordinator Dallas (one awesome dude), and did a few shows, one of them in the exact location I was arrested two weeks prior. In those three shows I made enough to cover my two nights at the Motel 6, but more importantly, I received closure. I’ve been looked down on many times as a street performer, but the incident with the cop was the first time I felt truly discriminated against.
It was really cool speaking with Dallas the Fire Guy for a little while. He told me about his early days as a busker, taking a Greyhound from LA to Key West while doing shows along the way. A happenstance run-in with a stranger created a detour that led him to Clearwater Beach. That was a few decades ago, and now he’s the street performing coordinator there, and travels all across the country doing shows with his son. I have him to thank for the open-door policy that allowed me to work Clearwater. He wants it to be a place where the next generation of young street performers drifting through can share their art, which is much appreciated.
For myself and many others, street performing is a stepping stone, not the final destination. Many of the entertainment greats of our time got their start as buskers. Some of them still go out and do it. There’s videos online of Bruce Springsteen and many other celebrities going out onto the streets, many of them returning to their roots.
This is a quote from buskersworld.com:
“Celebrated musician, John Butler who still busks despite his fame, commented in a recent interview that his main musical aim was simply to get his music heard. He expressed that whether he played on stage in front of an audience of 50,000 or stood on a street corner made no difference. His aim was still being achieved.”
Right now, I’m a street performer because I don’t yet have the clientele nor business model in place to provide the amount of gigs necessary to satisfy my need to perform. The true success for me is that I am getting paid to practice my passion. Since magic is a co-creative act, if you come up with a new trick, the only way to finish it is in front of a live audience. If I was strictly a gigging magician, I might only get a handful of live audiences a month. In street theater I can have dozens a day if I choose so. I’m getting a ridiculous amount of flight time, time on “stage” in front of a live audience.
As soon as I finish this post I’m going to walk across the street and work the St. Petersburg Saturday Farmers Market. I spent last night doing a little inner-city stealth-camping. I miscommunicated with my couchsurfing.org host, and found myself looking at motels again. But I’ve already spent four nights in motels on this trip, and only one camping. So at 1:30AM, I went riding around looking through downtown St. Petersburg for a place I could sneak into and sleep a few hours.
After 15 minutes I ended up finding an abandoned RV park, and tucked myself away in the corner. What I love about having the bike I do is that it allows me to reach places that might otherwise be unreachable. I quietly set up my tent, got a few hours of good sleep, and then packed up as the sun came up.
I love doing things like this because it’s adventurous and completely unconventional. I easily could’ve afforded the comfort of the motel; but that’s not what this trip is about. I rode to the nearest beach, caught the sunrise and went for a jog before using the beach shower to clean up. Now I’m ready to go make some more magic.
Stay tuned =)