Scan June's calendar at www.buskercentral.com for a list of festivals worldwide that celebrate and showcase buskers and street performers.
There, wedged in between events in Switzerland, Ireland, Macedonia and Montenegro, is “Buskerfest, Fort Wayne, Indiana USA.”
On Saturday, musicians, magicians, mimes and a myriad of other performers will flood the streets around Wayne and Calhoun streets from 4 to 11 p.m. with an array of family-friendly performances. The free event introduces downtown visitors to the diversity of arts, cultural and social events available in our city.
“Downtown will be more vibrant and interesting if we see more creativity at the street level on a regular basis,” says Tena Woenker, director of marketing and business development for the Downtown Improvement District (DID). “So we are very interested in promoting the concept of busking to the community.
“This is the third Buskerfest since 2009,” she continues. “Our goal was — and still is — to have events downtown that appeal to everyone. There isn't an event like Buskerfest in Fort Wayne, so this seemed like a fun festival to add to our mix of entertainment options.”
Random acts of fun
Often called minstrels, troubadours, buskers or street performers, performances include almost any imaginable entertainment device from acrobatics, clowning, juggling and puppeteering to fire eating, snake charming and sword swallowing.
Performances can take place at fairs and festivals, on street corners or aboard trains or subways. Though common in Europe for centuries, busking has rarely been seen or promoted in this country.
Dubbed “a festival of the unexpected” by DID, Buskerfest promises hours of entertainment with a scheduled lineup of stage acts and a host of buskers roaming the area, performing acts from traditional to quirky.
“Buskerfest is great because of the spontaneity,” explains Tara Conway, DID events coordinator. “With random buskers strolling the square and truly unique performances, you never know what you will see.”
Close to home
New Haven resident Jim Reams is performing at his third Buskerfest.
A magician for more than 20 years, Reams adopted the hobby after attending a magic class conducted by local legend Dick Stoner.
“I thought it might be fun to go learn a card trick,” he recalls. “Now, a good deal of money in props later ... magic is what I love to do. I perform comedy magic (with) audience participation and believe magic can be fun as well as mysterious. “
Scheduled onstage at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Reams also plans to roam the crowd, doing close-up magic.
“I believe this type of event has a very positive effect for the community,” he says. “It's all family-friendly and allows performers to showcase their talents.”
On the stage
Saturday's lineup includes local favorites End Times Spasm Band, Fort Wayne Taiko Drums, Afro-Disiacs and a return of Pyrotechniq — an 11-member fire performance team from Chicago.
Boston's Project Dynamite, billed as “a mix of tricks, comedy, and utter chaos,” will perform at 5 and 8 p.m., and Indiana native Dan Meyer takes the stage at 9 p.m.
A 20-time world champion sword swallower, Meyer will perform such “extreme feats as eating fire, swallowing solid steel swords, sabers, bayonets, razors, saws and other objects up to 30 inches long,” according to DID's news release.
“We tried to lure a large act with Cirque du Soleil performers from Atlanta,” says Woenker, “but were unable to raise sponsorship for that. We are hoping to find a big sponsor and grow Buskerfest in 2013 with a bigger national act. This year, our new acts are going to be very exciting, and we're sure the crowd will enjoy the diversity of the performances.”
In addition to the array of strolling performers, living statues and stilt walkers, there is an artisan marketplace, children's activities and — of course — food.
“We will have artists selling hand-crafted artisan jewelry, upcycled goods for the home, recycled and upcycled jewelry, and lots more,” says Conway.
“(For the children) there will be face-painting, magic tricks, music for dancing and plenty to see,” adds Woenker. “All the performers know to keep their content family-friendly.”
Food is available onsite from several downtown restaurants, and local eateries will be open to appease festival goers' appetites after encounters with comedians, caricature artists, clowns and acrobats.
“I think Buskerfest brings out childlike wonder in people of all ages,” says Conway.
“There are always surprises,” adds Woenker. “That's the fun of Buskerfest — the element of not knowing what to expect.”