Busker’s Bash: Downtown performances a perfect fit for musicians
A few coins clatter into an orange bucket at Jeff Martinez’s feet. He nods at the giver, and keeps playing. If he’s lucky, someone will drop a yellow guitar pick into the bucket.
Martinez is one of 25 musicians and performers who participated in Salisbury’s first Busker’s Bash on Friday evening. The event was the brain child of Sue McHugh, who hoped it would bring business to downtown merchants.
McHugh, who organizes the Chickweed Festival each year, says her gift is in putting things together. But she can’t take all the credit for the idea. Her son participated in a similar festival in Rochester, N.Y., earlier in the year and she thought it sounded like something that would fit Salisbury.
McHugh knew that downtown merchants recently had gotten together and decided to stay open late the first Friday of every month. She also knew that they hadn’t had much business those late nights.
“There was no incentive,” McHugh said.
There was no reason for the community to come out and visit the stores like there is on a Friday Night Out. So she presented the Busker’s Bash at a merchants’ meeting, and the idea took off.
McHugh wanted the event to have a different feel from the Friday Nights Out, which are often geared toward children and families. She wanted the Busker’s Bash to focus on the performers and the local businesses. Performers registered online, and were then assigned to a downtown business that agreed to offer fun or special deals for the evening.
Passersby could pick up designated yellow guitar picks from a tent in front of Southern Spirit Gallery. The rule was four per person. The picks were then thrown into an orange bucket assigned to each performer.
At the end of the night, the buckets would be picked up, the picks counted, and the winner announced at Uncle Buck’s All American Grill & Pub at 127 South Main St.
From the beginning, the night was a hit. Sue began handing out picks at five p.m. — the same time the businesses put their discounts into effect. Within an hour, she’d run out of the 400 picks and was handing out sales tags marked with “Busk.”
Acts ranged from solo musicians, like Martinez, to trios, such as performers Heather Foster, Jennifer Pettigrew, and Shaun Cammack.
Martinez was parked in front of the Fine Frame Gallery with a guitar. It wasn’t his first show. Martinez sits on the board at Lee Street Theater, and has been doing open mic night at Cooper’s — and Brick Street Tavern before it — for years. Martinez said he was happy that the night was helping to raise awareness for the arts community in Salisbury, and said he was donating all of his tips to Lee Street Theater.
But singer-songwriters weren’t the only ones playing for picks. Katie Hopkins swung a hula hoop in front of Expressions on East Fisher Street, and John Lowry wound a hand organ on the square.
Wife Rebecca Lowery said that John, 78, insisted on coming out for the Bash. And he gathered quite a crowd,
“People haven’t seen one,” she said, of the organ.
People who came out to see the performances enjoyed themselves strolling through the streets. Wayne and Rachel Dodgens were one such couple. They moved to Salisbury about a month ago, and this was one of their first nights out on the town.
Wayne said that they were hanging onto their votes, however, because they wanted to make sure they gave it to the best. He said he thought the Bash was a nice way to showcase the town.
Some, like Elaine Foster, came from farther away for the Bash. Foster is from Mocksville, and came to see her daughter, Heather, perform in front of Critters on South Main. While Heather’s was her favorite performance, Foster enjoyed many of the other musicians, and downtown in general.
“I love it,” she said.
Salisbury natives Bonnie Link and Flo Peck heard about the event and knew they had to come out. The two were determined to visit every performer before picking their favorites. While she enjoyed all of the performances she’d seen, Link said she felt like some of them were placed too close together.
Many performers were directly across the street from each other, or one door down, and had to compete not only for a crowd — but just to be heard. One or two moved to an empty corner to perform unimpeded.
But McHugh says she knew the event wouldn’t be perfect. It’s the first year, and one problem she discovered was that it got dark too early. Performances lasted from 6 to 8 p.m., but the sun set around 7, leaving many performers in the dark.
But that didn’t deter the players or the community. At the end of the night McHugh collected all the buckets, and counted out the picks and tags to see who received the most.
The winners were announced at Uncle Buck’s. The Catawba Trio consisting of Heather Foster, Jennifer Pettigrew, and Shaun Cammack won first place and received 200 Downtown Dollars. And Jeremy and Jessica Vess, a husband-and-wife duo, won a second place prize of 50 Downtown Dollars. Prizes were provided by the Salisbury-Rowan Tourism Development Authority.
McHugh and the downtown merchants are planning to make the Busker’s Bash a yearly event in Salisbury, and hope that it will bring new life to the growing city.