For the love of busking
Street performers flooded downtown Kingston for festival
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Love came in leaps and bounds to the 25th anniversary of the Kingston Buskers Rendezvous, July 11 to 14.
Twenty-five years ago, the Kingston buskers festival started as a part of the Sidewalk Sale, an initiative to bring business to the downtown area. The busking, however, proved to be popular on its own.
“We thought it would be a great way to spice up a summer weekend in downtown Kingston so we decided to make it its own event twenty-five years ago,” Jan MacDonald, projects manager-marketing at Downtown Kingston BIA, said. “Buskers has grown to be the huge success that it is from that.”
With acts ranging from musical performances and acrobatics to comedy and magic, Kingston hosts both performers and festival goers from around the world.
It was evident among the performers that it was a love for performing and busking that fueled their travels to the Kingston Buskers Rendezvous.
However, it appeared that some of the performers that I spoke to had a different kind of love on their minds.
As I waited to meet with Colin Campbell, a variety entertainer from Boston, Massachusetts, I watched as he stopped a young woman on the street and, after much flirtation, successfully obtained her phone number.
Traveling with his show, Campbell said he’s rarely settled in one place very long.
“I kind of like being a nomad and just exploring,” he said. “Having my kit on my back and just setting up on some street corner, and making my way through wherever I need to go.”
Campbell’s variety entertainment act includes a combination of bagpipes, unicycling, acrobatics and comedy, among other unique skills.
“When I was a kid I went to bagpipe camp, and when I was in high school I got into unicycling and I just figured these two probably go together like bread and butter,” he said.
After touring with his act around the United States, Canada, Australia and Scotland, the Kingston Buskers Rendezvous is Campbell’s first street performance festival.
“It has been the best time, I couldn’t have imagined it being anything like this,” he said. “I feel like a celebrity when I’m here.”
“I’m single,” Victor Rubilar, a football freestyler from Argentina, said in over six languages. “Everybody gets to know that.”
After a night out with his fellow buskers, Rubilar meets me wearing his sunglasses indoors with a cup of coffee in hand.
Performing his unique football freestyle at the Kingston Buskers Rendezvous, Rubilar’s show consists of noteworthy soccer ball handling and juggling tricks with which he has broken four Guinness World Records eight times.
“I use my technique to entertain, but it’s a comedy show about me being single,” Rubilar said about the show he brought to Kingston. “I play a lot with the audience. I feel like my skills are just an excuse to have fun.”
Touring non-stop, Rubilar said that he’s only home four months of the year, but just for a few days at a time.
“It’s a lot of coffee and Red Bull,” he said, explaining that the most complicated part of traveling so much is the jet lag.
“When I travel I meet all the friends. Once you travel enough, wherever you go you’re going to meet somebody,” he said.
When I stopped to watch 15-year-old Kingston native David Eliot’s magic show, he called me up to help him with his favourite trick — deck in the pocket.
After picking my card, Eliot asked me to write my name and number on the card, which I sportingly did, then placed back in the deck. Eliot said that it’s become a joke with his friends that he possesses a box of phone number cards.
With the help of a little magic, the entire deck ended up in Eliot’s pocket with only my card left in his hand.
When I ask about the trick, Eliot said, “[The Magician’s Code] actually is a real thing, believe it or not.”
Eliot first began performing magic three and a half years ago on a ski trip with his school.
“I think every kid has this magic phase where they do a trick and it’s just like so cool,” he said. “I think I’m just one of those kids who had this thing, but just never stopped having it.”
For Eliot, the Kingston Buskers Rendezvous is his first big festival, and a step away from performing on street corners and towards building his career.
Georg Viktor Emmanuel
Austrian musician Georg Viktor Emmanuel began performing live looping dub rock as a way to perform a live show by himself.
“I gave up everything in Austria last year. I had a regular job, I had my flat and everything,” Emmanuel said. “I always wanted to travel the world and make music.”
Emmanuel said that his risky decision turned out to be a great one as he toured thirteen countries in Europe last year, followed around by a documentary film crew.
“This is a very extreme experience because you get filmed and the most attractive stuff for the film is the worst for yourself,” he said.
Emmanuel never asks for a permit to perform his trademark hotel window shows, from the balcony of a hotel room to the street below, which have led him to a few police encounters.
However, Emmanuel refused to perform his trademark show for the Kingston buskers festival.
“I won’t do it because it’s a festival already. You have to find crowded spots in the cities and I like to do it when no one expects it,” he said.
The Flying Tortillas
The Flying Tortillas, a group of four friends from California, brought their freestyle acrobatics show to Kingston.
“None of us really planned to do any of this, it just kind of happened. We all had a little bit of experience street performing so we decided to do our own show,” Kiki, taking lead of the conversation, said.
With different backgrounds and styles, each member of the group brings a sense of individuality to the show.
“Bottom line is this is what makes us happy,” Tjay, who has been with the group the longest, said.
While their passion comes across in their show, it also has a serious undertone.
“There’s a message in the middle of our show that’s for the kids — don’t mess with drugs or alcohol. I want to live in peace and love, and I want to spread this message to the whole world,” Habibi, who performs the most daring stunts, said.
The Flying Tortillas said they appreciate the energy that they only find in Canadian crowds.
“Everyone’s looking for Canadian girlfriends,” Dash, the comic of the group, said.
The Street Circus
Daniel and Kimberly Craig of The Street Circus brought their act, featuring acrobatics, fire juggling and contortion stunts, from Winnipeg to Kingston.
Awing audiences with their hand-to-hand acrobatics, Kimberly stands on Daniel’s head during the finale of their show.
“You’re paralyzed with fear when it starts,” Kimberly said. “I just have to be as tight and strong and still as possible.”
The Street Circus act would be impossible without an immense amount of trust between Daniel and Kimberly.
“No matter what is going on between us, or in our lives … you’ve got to check that baggage at the door, cause once you’re standing on somebody’s head, there’s no room for error,” Daniel said.
The couple enjoyed their time in Kingston exploring downtown.
“We had pizza at Atomica yesterday, and — [while] we have been all over the world, we’ve been to Italy, we’ve eaten pizza all over — this is maybe some of the best pizza we’ve ever had,” Kimberly said.
As I squeezed my way through the hoards of people crowding Ontario St. and Market Square, I caught a glimpse of a street performance around every corner I turned.
Despite the heat, excitement and anticipation radiated through the crowd, stemming from the unique character of each performer as they put themselves on the line and jumped through hoops for Kingston’s love.