Well, today was my first day out busking in St. Louis for 2014, and though I might have not reached some personal goals I had set for the outing, I’m not complaining.
Needless to say, though, my anxiety was running pretty high leading up to the show. There have been a few weekends so far that would have been good to work during, because of work, illness, and other prior commitments, I wasn’t able to go out. Knowing that this weekend will be too cold to be able to keep a crowd, I knew I had to go out today after I left the day job early.
And I have been nervous as hell about going out. Even though I’ve been out before, enough time has passed since my last venture out that all sorts of fears (rational and irrational) piled up. I really have been losing sleep over this, going over the act over and over in my head. And really, I’ve only added one new bit to the act since I was doing it last year and in other outings for the local clubs, I’ve been able to keep trying some new bits of patter to see what might work or not. I was getting pretty OCD about it all by the time I was hitting the door to head to Delmar. Yeah, despite the number of checks of my case, I still had to check it one more time while standing at the van before I finally was able to drive off.
I chose Delmar because of the amount of foot traffic and the fact that it was a typically pleasant to work last year. I was hoping to get the same spot I was working last year, but a couple of guitarists (not bad, by the way) were snagging it as I did a drive up and down Delmar to scope out the Friday late afternoon scene. The pickings were pretty ugly as far as pitches were concerned, so I ended up settling on a few that I hoped were the least of the evils.
Once I parked and was walking, I noticed that the wind was kinda heavy. Didn’t know if it would be a deal breaker, I just knew I didn’t want to do things so that I was chasing a sponge ball or two that were blown down the street. I also knew I needed this outing to happen because I was seriously tempted to chicken out.
I set up in the pitch I selected, which was on the corner to a parking garage across from the Tivoli theater. Foot traffic looked pretty good, but once I got going, I realized how bad the spot was. More on that in a bit.
The first group I got to stop was a pair of teenage couples. The guys stopped immediately and wanted to see what I was going to do with the Linking Rings, and the women suddenly became interested as soon as the clanking began. One of the women started out naysaying with the words, “It’s an illusion,” but I was able to still get a “Wait! How’d you do that?” out of her. By the end of the rings, I had also built the crowd up a bit. I zeroed in on my early naysayer and did my sponge ball routine with her, and had her attention. I then used a thirty-something couple to help me with the Ropes Through the Neck routine, and the look on the wife’s face was what I was hoping for. She really didn’t want to pull on the ropes and strangle me. Bless her! After that, though, the crowd broke up immediately before I could finish with my Rocky Raccoon routine. Dammit!
No problem, though. I took a moment to reset the act and stopped another group of girls who enjoyed the rings, but took off. Which led me to the best group of the day.
Okay, first off, when the hell did I get old enough that I can’t tell if a group of girls is high school aged or college aged? I remember this happening to adults older than me as I was growing up and always thinking, “Well, duh. It’s obvious.” Sigh.
Anyway, I stopped a group of about six young women and had then fighting over the chain of three rings trying to figure out where the “soft spot” was. That was worth the moment by itself, but getting the screams of “Oh my GOD!” with the sponge balls, followed by “Okay! Do that trick on me next!” kinda had my personal magic bug in heaven. When I passed out the ropes for examination, both of the volunteers were afraid to touch them because they were afraid they were going to turn into something. I love this gig. Once I had the knot tied in the ropes and they saw where this was going, they were pretty much terrified. This group (plus the additional people that gathered) was the only one that saw the Rocky routine, and by the time Rocky revealed the selected card, we were all having a good time. It was the only group that saw the full set, but I’ll explain some of the issues I need to learn to either deal with or avoid in the future.
Okay, the sidewalk I was working on was a bit shallow for me as far as crowd control. If the crowd got too big, I had possible safety issues pushing people into the street just trying to get enough space to link the ring I was holding to the one being held by a helper, let alone leaving enough room for others not watching to pass by the act. It’s one thing to have a horseshoe group around you, but when there’s not even enough space for a full arm’s length around, it’s something I’m going to have to learn to work with. Let’s just say, if anything relies on angles, you’ve got a tough row to hoe. Also, with people passing by so closely, it keeps the group constantly shifting and not as stable as I’d like, so I really need to work hard on my crowd management in addition to pitch selection.
With these factors going on, even though I was doing some decent magic, I was dropping a lot as far as patter because I was also distracted. That didn’t help, so I’m going to have to put a good amount of time under my belt to get comfortable with all those issues.
All in all, I didn’t make any money, and my performance goal of at least ten sets didn’t quite happen. In the time I was out there, I ended up doing the rings twelve times, the sponge balls seven, the ropes four, and Rocky once. I ended up blowing off the pitch after an hour and fifteen minutes, because with the tough pitch and my level of experience, it probably was going to get far more frustrating without getting better.
In all, though, it felt good to be back out there. I think this outing was just to get back out there and get the nerves settled. The people were, in general, good to work with, and I’m looking forward to more and getting better with the tasks and challenges ahead. Yeah, a lot of irrational fears leading up to getting out there, but that should be far more diminished next time (which, if the weather forecast is right, won’t be for another couple of weeks). I don’t know where I’ll hit next, but I have some other locations in mind.
Two last things: Levent’s advice to me to get the rings into the spectators’ hands is the best advice I’ve gotten on the rings. I had to rework my routine from what it started out as to make it happen with some of the routining I really didn’t want to drop, but as it worked for the kids’ performances, it worked doubly so for busking.
Secondly, there’s a special place in my heart for the chemically-altered guy that was dogging me after one of the groups dissolved. Sorry, but I just couldn’t bring myself to show him “how to hide stuff so the cops can’t find it.” He just really knew I could help him out.