Freddy Flores is a veteran of Vancouver’s busker scene and is grateful for the freedom the lifestyle has allowed him. “The good thing is I don’t have to work in factories,” he explained while setting up to catch the lunch-hour commuters on their way to or from the SeaBus at Waterfront Station. “I make enough to survive. And I like my music.”
The TransLink licence Flores possesses allows him to perform his brand of South American music for tips and sell his CDs in six locations, three of which are in Waterfront Station. The drawbacks to the licence system, he said, are the short period they are given to play, 90 minutes, and the limited venue choice. These concerns, however, have not kept him from working. “After here I go to Vancouver City Centre and then I go to Burrard. If nobody there, then I play.”
The schedule of 90-minutes sets is part of the system set up to allow a variety of musicians to perform, but all start with an audition. Each year, since shortly after Expo 86, auditions are held at TransLink’s head office in New Westminster. Performers send in applications, complete with criminal checks, then are invited to audition in front of a panel of judges, and sometimes media.
“Over the years, the numbers of performers have fluctuated and there were certainly more licences issued for 2010 during the Winter Olympics,” explained Cindy Bromley, the TransLink’s director of communications and stakeholder relations. “[Dec. 4], 40 to 50 applicants [will] audition to fill eight busker positions.”
The quality of the musicians applying is always high, said Bromley. “We are very fortunate in that Metro Vancouver is home to some very accomplished musicians.”
James Mark, who has held a TransLink licence for three years, remembers his own audition with a sense of humour. “As it came to my turn Global TV shows up with all their big cameras! If I hadn’t been nervous before, I was definitely nervous then!” Nervous or not Mark was successful in gaining a licence and has been using the time to not only work on his solo act but reconnect with his past through band mates from Iron Gypsy, a Vancouver heavy metal band out of the ‘80s, and the formation of a new band called ROCCOR.
His advice to musicians auditioning for the busking licence, “Pretend no one’s in the room, have fun, and do it with passion.”
Bromley, who is on the panel of judges, offers similar advice. “For those auditioning for the first time this year, our number one suggestion is practice, practice, practice.” Being prepared to perform is a necessity, she said. “You only have three minutes to wow the judges.”
The musicians selected to receive a licence will be given a daily schedule covering all locations and times over the course of a month, Bromley said, but there will be no consideration given to mix of genres or musician preference as it will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Once selected, the musician will no longer have to participate in the annual auditions; just pay the $75 licence fee for renewal each year.
Long-time magic-comedic performer Eden Cheung will probably not be on the auditions list for TransLink, he usually performs at Granville Island, which has recently instituted a new structure of auditions and fees, but he is a long-time supporter of the art form. “There’s a certain organic feel to being supported directly by the people,” he said during a recent phone interview. “The thing I like about busking is there’s not barrier to entry. All you need is a space [to perform] and talent.”