If you’re looking to catch some great live entertainment in Saratoga Springs, don’t overlook the sidewalks on Broadway.
On summer evenings you’re bound to run across a musician picking a banjo, a magician wowing a crowd or an artist transforming a drab stretch of concrete into a chalk-art masterpiece.
Saratoga’s bustling main street is the ideal habitat for buskers — entrepreneurs who entertain the public in hopes of receiving donations.
This summer, it seems like there are more of them downtown than ever and many of them are quite talented, said Susan Farnsworth, special event planner for the Saratoga Springs Downtown Business Association.
“We’ve got some that are really staples and others, like the chalk art girl, who just showed up and is really making quite a name for herself,” she said.
That chalk art girl is 18-year-old Alexis Broz of Schuylerville. Every day this summer she’s been riding her bike to Saratoga with her chalk-filled duffle bag in tow. She picks a busy spot on the east side of Broadway, pulls out an assortment of chalk, and on hands and knees, uses what’s usually thought of as a child’s drawing tool to bring the sidewalk to life.
As a crowd gathers around her, she sketches thoroughbreds crossing the finish line at Saratoga Race Course, a hound dog smoking a cigar or maybe a cartoon chili pepper eating tortilla chips.
She’ll often draw for six to eight hours each day.
“I’ve gotten faster at it,” she said. “When I first started, it would take three to five hours for a really big [drawing] and now it’s like one to two,” she said.
Her work is inspired by the business she’s stationed in front of, a special event going on in town or “just the vibe of a certain place,” she said.
Her colorful cartoon renderings have drawn a lot of attention. Businesses on Broadway have commissioned her to work outside of their storefronts and she has all sorts of fans.
“I’ve had people come up to me from other countries and say that they’re my international Facebook fans,” she said. “I get random text messages on my phone from people who have picked up my business card and they’ll just say, 'Thanks for brightening Saratoga.’ It’s just really sweet and it’s fun to just be around in a town where everybody knows you,” she said.
Another bonus is the donations that get stuffed into her “college fund” jar. Broz is saving up to attend a semester-long program at Kroka Expeditions in New Hampshire. The curriculum she’ll participate in involves a 600-mile backpacking trek to Maine that starts in January. So far, she estimates she’s raised close to $5,000 toward the tuition with her chalk art.
But when it comes to busking on the streets of Saratoga, money isn’t the main draw for Broz.
“So many people are so appreciative and you meet incredible people all night long. It’s definitely the people who make it,” she said.
Like Broz, 21-year-old magician Steven Brundage of Queensbury is a fledgling busker.
He’s entertained his friends with his tricks at parties pro-bono for years and has always enjoyed doing that, but it’s nice to get some cash in return for the entertainment he provides on the street, he said.
“And it’s a great way to perform for tons and tons of people,” he noted. “Normally I wouldn’t perform the same trick for 30 times a night. Now I have that opportunity to really perfect my skills.”
His open-air act came to be after a friend bet him that he couldn’t earn $3,000 by the end of the year doing magic. He’s already pulled about $2,000 in donations out of his hat in just one month, entertaining passersby with his repertoire of more than 100 card tricks.
“I will mix it up sometimes with coins or some pens, or just different tricks, whatever fits the situation,” he said.
Money is a major motivation for many buskers and there’s no problem with them earning cash out on the street as long as they’re not panhandling, Farnsworth said. But on days when there’s an event going on that requires a permit from City Hall, like the Hats Off to Saratoga Festival and the Victorian Streetwalk, buskers must find somewhere else to entertain, she noted.
Brundage began performing on Broadway at the beginning of August and can usually be found from 7 to 10 p.m. Thursday through Sunday on the sidewalk by the Plum Dandy frozen yogurt shop or near the parking lot by Lillian’s Restaurant.
His street performances have led to other gigs as well.
“I’ve had multiple people approach me about doing parties or doing stuff for restaurants or different events,” he said.
A student at SUNY Adirondack, right now he’s saving up for a car and for school.
Before he started busking in Saratoga, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do after college, but now he’s considering a career as a magician.
“I’m hoping I can continue doing it part time, even during the winter months if I can find a restaurant job and then eventually maybe I could do it full time,” he mused.