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Kelowna starts to create buskers festival

The Trips have had great success busking on Bernard Avenue this year, according to Festivals Kelowna, who license buskers in a program running year-round. There are 15 sanctioned busking stations in the city and the street performers require a permit to play. - Contributed
The Trips have had great success busking on Bernard Avenue this year, according to Festivals Kelowna, who license buskers in a program running year-round. There are 15 sanctioned busking stations in the city and the street performers require a permit to play.
— image credit: Contributed

The tester for Kelowna's busker festival will likely come from the Victoria International Buskers Festival talent pool.

Festivals Kelowna is gingerly wading into the street scene extravaganza with plans to speak with John Vickers, organizer of the Island tourism clincher, to see if an artist travelling east cannot be sent Kelowna's way when their work in the provincial capital wraps.

"Whenever you do a festival, you want to make sure you do it right. Our community is very lucky, in my mind, and a bit spoiled, in a sense, in that we've had some amazing events to enjoy," said Renata Mills, Festivals Kelowna executive director. "This also means we have some expectations to meet. You don't want to come out of the gate when you are introducing a new event without a solid plan."

The hosts of a buskers festival enjoy some unique nuances. The artists aren't there to be paid, for example, but the area does need to provide the hotel rooms, offer up incentives like meal per diems and create the right marketing, space and ambiance to ensure the performers bring in good cash.

Travelling the world in pursuit of tips, buskers in their prime foster a heady lifestyle and income, enjoying trips between the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, boardwalks in the Florida Keys and the World Buskers Festival in New Zealand.

But here in Kelowna, Mills says, business has also been brisk for those willing to put in the time.

The Trips have done very well on Bernard Avenue, plucking away at their signature bluegrass with an infectious, down-home charm.

"We were just rehearsing at the heArt School upstairs one day and decided to go outside. We started playing, turned around and there was this crowd," said Graham Ord, a celebrated Kelowna songwriter and member of the band.

The Trips were a regular Thursday evening act last summer and the crowds only grew as they tossed melodies back and forth in the hot summer evenings.

"There's a number of assets Kelowna has in terms of being a stop along the way," said Mills, noting our sunny summers cannot be underplayed in this milieu.

Festivals Kelowna will be researching the optimal way to set up areas for buskers, sourcing sound systems, looking at media buys, signage and so forth over the course of the next year.

In the meantime, start watching the Festivals Kelowna Parks Alive agenda as a quality touring busker is likely to be playing one of the evenings or afternoons of free music to pilot the buskers' festival in town.

"Everybody has a story about a favourite busker or a favourite busk they've experienced," said Mills.

Victoria is the city to learn from as thousands of tourists flock to its harbour each year, to see how the arts community has taken street performance mainstream capitalizing on a kite festival, chalk art festival, lantern festival—and more.

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