The Saratoga Summer
Busking: to perform or play music in public places, usually on a sidewalk, for voluntary donations.
On warm summer nights on Broadway in Saratoga Springs, busking is a welcome tradition that draws a variety of performers, including musicians, magicians and a sidewalk chalk artist. As the sun sets and people venture out for dinner and nighttime shopping, buskers will set up along the street to share their talents, and hopefully garner some generous donations.
With racing season open, there are always plenty of tourists out and about to create an active audience.
On Thursday, July 24, a walk down Broadway gave passersby the chance to hear a bagpiper, a traveling bluegrass band and a young violinist who’s graced the stage at Carnegie Hall. While the buskers in Saratoga don’t run on a schedule, you will likely find someone performing on Broadway from 7 p.m. to approximately 10 p.m. on a nice summer evening.
“I like to fiddle for fun,” laughed the violinist, an 18-year-old Saratoga High School grad named Seina Shirakura.
Shirakura just finished her first year at the Manhattan School of Music, where she’s majoring in classical violin performance. Shirakura says she can earn up to a couple hundred dollars in one night of busking, and she’s saving it to pay for her education.
Asked whether she prefers the grand stage at Carnegie Hall or the open streets in Saratoga, Shirakura said she couldn’t choose one over the other.
“Out here I get an immediate response when I play,” Shirakura said. “What I like about it is that I think people automatically know that I’m doing this because I love it. The energy is very different, it’s a lot of fun, and I can help my parents pay for my college at the same time.”
Performers who busk in Saratoga do not need a permit to set up on the street. According to bagpiper Seamus Cutler, who’s been busking in Saratoga for three years, the response to street performers in Saratoga is almost always positive.
Visiting Saratoga from Long Island with friends, Marcy and Mike Fasciglione stopped to tap their feet and bob their heads to the music of bluegrass group Ramblers Home. The group of tourists agreed that the buskers added to the atmosphere and culture in Saratoga, and it was one of the reasons that they always make the Spa City their vacation destination.
“It’s like when you’re in New York City, street performers are a part of the charm,” Mike said as he dropped a few bucks in the Ramblers Home guitar case.
“It’s part of what makes Saratoga, Saratoga. And it’s why we come back every year,” added Marcy.
After the Fascigliones left, Ramblers Home continued to strum and sing to the passing audience. Ramblers Home members have made their passion for music into a way of living. Group members Ryan Sullivan and Madeline Giulia, both 21, are a part of a culture of full-time buskers who travel the country living off of their music.
Sometimes their group varies in size, and they pick up other musicians and travel together. Sullivan, a native of Queensbury, said he’s played bluegrass in California and even joined the Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans.
“Saratoga is one of the best places to busk on the East Coast,” Sullivan said as he tuned his mandolin. “It’s one of the most profitable, in part because it’s a pretty ritzy place, but also because it’s more of a novelty here. Out west, the weather is like this year-round and people can get sick of seeing a guitarist every day in the street.”
Giulia is new to Ramblers Home, and doesn’t plan on settling down in one place anytime soon.
“It’s been awesome,” she said. “It’s like we’re being paid to live off our passions.”