Strolling down the street in Downtown Portland, one is as likely to encounter a busker as they are a plea to support a generically named non-profit group by an aspiring model. At times these encounters seem to take place on nearly every corner. Their presence is a reminder that the City is alive, and that there is more to life than hurriedly shuffling along from one appointment to the next.
Portland’s buskers come in every shape and size and those who perform music play a great variety of instruments and an even greater variety of musical styles and genres. As spring approaches and weather becomes less of a barrier, the City is blessed by the increased presence of bucket tinged dance beats and sidewalk serenades.
According to the Willamette Week, a recent forum was held to explore possible changes in Portland’s Street Musicians and Performers Partnership Agreement. While there was apparently a lively debate, it appears that there will be no changes to the current agreement. While not perfect, the agreement appears to acknowledge the concerns of and offer remedies to all parties involved, whether willingly or otherwise, in a busker musical performance.
Busking has its origins in antiquity and in many cultures is alternately enjoyed or tolerated, depending upon the quality of the performance, as a part of urban life. While some cities have attempted to regulate busking via the use of permits and performance scheduling, Portland busking’s current self regulation is for the most part acknowledged in the Agreement.
Permits, scheduling, and agreements aside, a majority of busking takes place within the bounds of what can best be described as an unspoken busker code of conduct involving numerous tacit and express agreements amongst the buskers, local shop owners, and inhabitants.
How well will this unspoken code of conduct hold up in Portland this summer? With an increasing amount of buskers performing and a majority of them unaware of the Portland Agreement, there are bound to be disagreements. Asking a busker to keep his melodies with 100 feet of his person is like asking the wind to blow at a set speed. A limited number of prime performance spots in the City makes competition for those spots increasingly intense.
To the credit of buskers everywhere, they have always found a way to resolve these inherent conflicts and at times even work in harmony to provide Portland with an abundance of music in the air. So the next time you see a busker, show your appreciation by stopping and, if you are able, tip them something for their trouble. By doing so you are supporting the arts in their purest form, whatever that form may be.