Posted by Elizabeth Hopkins '15
Initially, I took interest in street music as a performative genre. This approach guided my curiosity about the role that buskers and festivals occupy in Saratoga. But through my research, I discovered a myriad of social, legal and economic complexities surrounding street music. Performances on Broadway that I had previously taken for granted attained a fresh meaning when I embarked on this project.
City ordinances dictate how street musicians can conduct themselves within public spaces on Broadway. Law enforcement personnel must occasionally mediate conflicting interests between business owners and performers to ensure that customers receive a satisfying experience. But street musicians have developed a system of sharing space based on the principle of first-come, first-served. Performers generally respect one another’s enterprise. This self-regulated system enables musicians to intervene in the normative structure of street life in Saratoga Springs.
Seasoned performers discern the best times and places to busk on Broadway based on architectural acoustics and traffic flow. Open archways outside of closed businesses provide musicians with the best sound. During the evening hours when visitors are popping in and out of restaurants and bars, performers set up near the corner of Broadway and Caroline, where they gain access to more traffic flow. But buskers depend first and foremost on the social interactions that they develop with their audience. They cater to their listeners, especially families, in order to drum up business. These interactions not only increase their likelihood of making a profit, but they also render the experience more meaningful for all participants.
This feeling of communitas becomes magnified during festivals, when Broadway shuts down to welcome tens of thousands of visitors. Events like Chowderfest and Victorian Street Walk feature live music, DJs and other street performers in various locations on Broadway. In this setting, festival music transforms the entire atmosphere of downtown Saratoga Springs. Participants are betwixt-and-between normative realities, enjoying and engaging in communal activities.
Street music and festivals contribute to a unique identity that sets Saratoga Springs apart from other small cities. Recent tensions between business owners and musicians may alter the precarious ordinance that currently enables performers to openly participate in the downtown scene. But the public has expressed influence over the ordinance, which influenced the city council to decide to eliminate a proposed licensing restriction. Through this influence, members of the community uphold the idea that street music creates a collective idea of Saratoga identity. Musical events form intangible memories that become part of the essence of what one may define as local culture.
Related newspaper articles:
2015 Busker regulations to be revisited. Saratogian, April 13. (accessed April 26, 2015).
2015 Public hearing remains open. Saratogian, April 22. (accessed April 26, 2015)