Sometime in August 2006, I attended my first Buskerfest in Halifax, Nova Scotia, while I was on holiday there, and I had such a fantastic time I began to attend the Buskerfests held in Toronto. I’d heard of this but hadn’t bothered before, but now I was hooked. I loved the feel of a village fun fair, where you could wander about, (I’m a huge fan of wandering), and see some fantastic acrobatic, musical, slapstick, magician, and circus acts without having to line up to purchase a ticket to see first. If you were hungry or thirsty you could stop at one of the food stalls or drop in at one of the many great pubs that line Front Street, and the area, the older, low rise buildings helped give it that small town atmosphere, it was a festival not an amusement park.
Of course there was money involved, like with everything in life, it’s not free. Admission to the fest is a donation to Epilepsy Toronto support programs and services for people with epilepsy, and of course this is a Buskerfest and just like when you see a busker act anywhere else, and you stop and watch, and like what you see, you give them some money. If you’re not interested, you’ll know in the first few moments and you’ll move on.
There were crowds of course, but there wasn’t that hurried, get out of my way feel amongst the people attending, most if not all were happy and relaxed with just wandering about, taking in the atmosphere and the sights.
That was then, last year the festival moved from Front Street to Yonge Street and in that move it lost it’s vibe.
I’ll admit when I heard about the move to Yonge Street I wasn’t happy about it. Yonge Street has long been a novelty act for the tourist, and honestly once you’ve seen it you really don’t need to return. It’s a bit seedy in areas despite multiple efforts to clean it up, (more on this in an upcoming gentrification rant), but more than that, the area where the Buskerfest is held, really doesn’t have anything interesting about it, it’s the “meh” of streets.
The reason for the move that was given was that Buskerfest had grown too large for the Front Street address so it moved onto Yonge Street, however, having attended it at both locations I can’t buy that excuse, in fact the new address is more cramped and there were plenty of places it could have expanded onto, from Front Street.
So why the change? If you go the website, I believe the answer is in the blurb, “Fostering a partnership with the Downtown Yonge Street BIA (Business Improvement Area), the longest and most vibrant street in the world has become the venue for the largest Epilepsy event in the world and North America’s largest Street Performer Festival!”
It’s become more about Business than Buskers, and the evidence is in the number of vendors selling clothing and accessories, food and tchotchke. This year, as I work just around the corner, I spent my lunch walking up Yonge Street just before the event would start and walked past kiosk after kiosk, all the while wondering where the busker’s were expected to perform. Most of them were seconded down the side streets, the stages were set a good way down, quite easily missed if you weren’t seeking it out as they were somewhat obscured by food and clothing stalls, while the main drag, Yonge Street ,was played host mainly to the many vendors. The only stage I could tell that wasn’t being hidden was the only one that couldn’t no matter how hard the business ventures tried, Dundas Square, but that was one out of eleven.
I didn’t return later that day, Friday, the festival had lost it’s lure, the business aspect took the fun and wonder out of the experience, it was as if Disney came by and sucked the soul out of the event. It’s a shame really, I wanted to attend but I couldn’t get past the preference given to the vendors.
p.s. I did drop by after work, but only briefly to make a donation. I may not like what they’ve done with the event, but I can’t ignore the cause.