The Vancouver International Busker Festival Takes to the Streets

From June 29th to July 1st, Granville Street will be taken over by an Olympic Games throwback event; its name? The Vancouver International Busker Festival (VIBF). In 2010, Vancouver was honoured to host and entertain the world for the Winter Olympic games, happily transforming downtown into a thrilling hotspot for their international visitors. A big highly-praised factor of the excitement were the buskers who lined the streets. Street performers who amazed and awed the crowd with acts which ranged from singing, to juggling, to stunning stuntman feats of cunning, strength and danger. Their only stipulation? A tip.

Two years ago, close to 160 street performers lined every artery of Vancouver, after the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association (DVBIA) announced they’d allow street performers to scatter themselves throughout the city for free in an effort to spice up the Olympic atmosphere. They mingled music and flying machete’s with the red clad seas of sports fans and were considered nation wide to be a wild success.

Lately though, it seems as if busking in Van City is not particularly celebrated, what with the litigation, and possible strikes occurring on Granville Island. But the festival crew isn’t worried, saying “there have been some disagreements between street performers and the people who run program there. It just seems to be that there are a lot of regulations for its streets which leads to a sense of a “no fun city”.  So were trying to elevate this, by making street performance a focal point for the weekend, to allow people to like it, to make it all inclusive, to show people it’s a completely fun thing. The street performers on Granville have a positive message, not a negative one, they are simply asking for a little bit more freedom, not complete deregulation. Plus, we are bringing in international acts, as well as the local ones, the Granville Island situation won’t threaten the festival.”

The VIBF team is a small one, headed by performer Michael Anthony Bonnici, or “DynaMike” as he’s known on the streets. An award-winning international busker, and founder of the aMillion BaZillion Arts Society (AMBZ), Mike and many other local performers were a part of the Olympic games celebrations, and, says Says Nick “No Visible Talents” Broad, VIBF’s Media and Marketing director and self-proclaimed “busker groupie”: “on the back of that is why this festival is really happening, they saw the power of street performance to entertain large crowds then, which is why the downtown has been so positive towards the festival and working with us now.”

Together, they have formed the VIBF, a four day busking festival which will see close to a million guests, putting Vancouver’s busking scene on par with those of the rest of Canada, and make citizens and visitors alike remember the glory days of the Olympic games.

Vancouver is joining a long and growing tradition of busking, a trend which has emerged in Canada over the past three decades. Some of the country’s biggest cities such as Toronto, Halifax and Edmonton host their own festivals which see half a million to a million people.

Vancouver’s own all-ages festival will feature international acts of all varieties, with free admission to encourage citywide participation. “The job of a street performer,” Says Broad, “is to show people that they want to be entertained, it’s up to the street performer to pop that bubble you’re in on your way to work, and say ‘hey you might enjoy this!’ And that is what we’re hoping to do on Canada Day.”

When asked about his own involvement, since his response to the question “do you perform” was a resounding no, Broad relayed a story from his time in New York. He explained “l lived with guy called Chen, he was a violin player, and he was inspirational. I saw  people wipe away tears when they listened to him. He was classically trained, and an incredible performer. Once when I saw him play, he made people make eye contact and even hold hands on the subway, it was a total change in atmosphere which was amazing to watch. He could have been in an orchestra, a concert violinist, he wasn’t some down and out hard on his luck guy, he made the conscious decision to be a street performer. He really wasn’t treated with enough respect by people, and police. Once he was spat on, and told to get a real job. He faced harassment about what he did, which was really making New York better. That’s when I got into it, I started a website, then realized I could go worldwide, and really help them out. Even if it’s simply giving them information about upcoming festivals, like this one.” But, he says “this festival isn’t about activism, we aren’t taking over Granville to make a political statement! It’s about creating fun. This is a fun event in it’s own right.”

Broad, Bonnici, and the rest of the VIBF team are currently looking for more volunteers and partners, and encourage anyone interested in participating, or attending, to check out their website at: www.vancouverbuskerfest.com or email them at: info@vancouverbuskingfest.com. The festival is also running an Indiegogo Campaign in order to raise the final 12500$ minimum they need to fund the festival, and fly in international artists, information about which can be found at: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/vancouver-international-busker-festival.