The best busking hotspots around the globe
From curbside classical to pop by the plaza, these performance hubs promise one hell of a show.
There is no denying it: the quality of buskers can be extremely variable. The bad ones send commuters scurrying and clear out the vicinity in a matter of minutes with feeble renditions of stale pop classics. Good buskers, on the other hand, can be glorious. They have the power to stop busy passers-by in their tracks, making them take an impromptu time-out from their daily routine to enjoy an on-the-fly performance and perhaps even convince them to cough up a little cash out of appreciation.
The streets have been the starting point for many a talented performer, including Rod Stewart and B.B. King. And many big-name acts, including Arcade Fire and Passenger, have gone back to give roadside performances even after finding fame. Of course, with a constantly changing lineup of street-side performers, there are no guarantees of greatness, but for the best chance of catching a quality act, pull out those earbuds and check out these global busking hotspots.
Jackson Square, New Orleans
New Orleans, the cradle of jazz and the birthplace of such esteemed performers as Louis Armstrong and the Queen of Gospel, Mahalia Jackson. In a city with a musical legacy like this, expectations are high. Luckily, New Orleans’ street performers are a pretty talented bunch. Artists, bands and solo musicians of the highest caliber compete for strollers’ attentions on the streets of the French Quarter, and there is almost always guaranteed to be at least one act entertaining the masses at Jackson Square. From lone saxophonists to multi-instrument ensembles, you’ll find all kinds of performers here, though the biggest day slots are usually given over to brass bands who jam in front of the cathedral and fountain. With trombones sliding and tubas blaring, it’s hard not to crack a smile. If you like what you hear, be sure to throw them a few dollars to show your appreciation. And if you’re keen to hear them again, ask them where they are playing next. Many buskers who play on the square also gig in local bars.
Tel Aviv-Jaffa Promenade, Tel Aviv
From rock to folk, many musical genres can be heard at the seaside promenade, as seen in the video above. This stretch is also famous for hosting classical music. Israel has produced some of the greatest classical musicians of the 20th and 21st centuries including violinists Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman, and pianist Daniel Barenboim. In the Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv, the home of the celebrated Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and the Israeli Opera Company, the classical music scene is flourishing. If you want to hear the city’s classical artists showing off their skills, one of the best places for it is the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Promenade, where soaring Mozart melodies and intricate Bach counterpoint – normally confined to the altogether stuffier setting of the concert hall – drift through the sea air.
The subway, New York
Many ambitious musicians have packed up their instrument of choice and hopped on a bus or plane to the Big Apple in the hope of honing their skills and making a name for themselves. With so many talented performers aiming for the big time, it’s not unheard of to stumble across a virtuoso during the morning or evening commute. For the best chances of finding the city’s undiscovered musical talent, go underground. New York’s subway stations are prime territory for everyone from veteran crooners to classical maestros-in-the-making. You’ll almost always find musicians sharing their craft at larger stations such as Union Square, Grand Central, Times Square and Columbus Circle, though the smaller subway stops also attract their fair share of fantastic performers – some of whom may even be good enough to convince you to skip the next train and hang around for a bit to listen to more of their set.
Djemaa el-Fna, Marrakech
Marrakech’s main square serves as an open-air stage for performers of all kinds. By day, warm-up acts include flute-toting snake charmers, monkey handlers, henna tattooists and tooth pullers. The main event takes place as dusk falls, when local acts begin flexing their musical muscles. Grab yourself a bowl of harira (chickpea and lentil soup) and join the crowds that congregate to watch performers, ranging from Berber bands featuring banjos, drums and tambourines to Gnawa musicians. Gnawa is a unique genre of Moroccan music that has its origins in sub-Saharan West Africa. It’s characterized by the use of krakebs (heavy iron castanets) which provide rhythm and a three-string lute known as a gimbri.
Lower Broadway, Nashville
Just like New Orleans, Nashville is a city with a reputation for musical greatness – the one-time home of the genre’s greats, including Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. For country music fans in particular, it is a place of pilgrimage. The music scene here continues to thrive and still centers around Lower Broadway in an area known as the Honky Tonk Highway, thanks to its high concentration of storied bars, saloons and juke joints. You need never step inside a honky-tonk to hear great live music here, with a series of fantastic performers plucking, strumming, beating and singing on the sidewalk. Music courses through the air and toe-tapping audiences gather around to listen to the acts on the street’s edge.
With an increasing number of restrictions being placed on street performers, busking has become more difficult than ever to practice. Not so at Mauerpark in Berlin. A real rarity, Mauerpark is said to be the only spot in Berlin where musicians can play amplified music without a permit – providing the noise doesn’t carry onto the streets, that is. Visitors come here in their droves both to browse the park’s Sunday flea market and to check out its eclectic outdoor music scene which, depending on the day, might include a blues performer, a West African drumming troupe or an American singer-songwriter. To ensure nearby residents get some shut-eye, performers tend to stop come nightfall, so get here in the day to catch the show in full swing.
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