Spotlight on buskers

By Jeff Labine
Published: July 25, 2016

Although busking has grown in Thunder Bay, musicians Jim Gillies and Sherry Aldrick don’t believe it’s possible to make street performing a full-time job in the city.

The musical pair were one of the acts performing at the fourth annual Valley Fresh Buskers Festival in the area of Bay and Algoma streets. The two-day festival, which wrapped up on Sunday, featured plenty of music, food and other sights and sounds for visitors to explore. The term busking means to play music or perform for voluntary donations in the streets, in subways or other usually public places.

Both Gillies and Aldrick have been busking for years but not exclusively. They also perform at events and have had jobs in other sectors, from which they have since retired.

They believe it would be tough to make busking an exclusive career choice in Thunder Bay.

“As musicians we have diversified,” Aldrick said. “We do a lot of music in our community. I doubt that a busker could make a living here because there’s not enough high-traffic areas.”

Gillies learned the tricks of being a busker when he was performing overseas in England. Years later he met Aldrick, who was working health care, in Thunder Bay during an open stage event and invited her to join him in busking.

Aldrick said when they started busking at Marina Park, seeing musicians were more of a rarity.

“It was wonderful surprising people because there was no buskers down there at the time,” she said. “I can remember Rick Smith and his wife were walking down — he was a well-known character in Thunder Bay — and they rushed up to us and asked us where we were from. We said we were from Thunder Bay and they were so surprised because they didn’t expect it. They expected we came from elsewhere.”

Aldrick added that while some have suggested that they try busking at Intercity Shopping Centre, as an example, it is more difficult because they are on private property.

Both agreed though that the Busker Festival was a good way for musicians to get more exposure.

That rang true for Jim Dacey, who was playing the Irish bagpipes on Sunday. The instrument is different from its more familiar Scottish cousin as the musician playing it uses a pump rather than blowing into it. Dacey said his bagpipes also has a dry split reed that allows him to play two octaves.

“They say it takes 21 years to get the hang of it,” he said. “I’m on my way. I’m not quite there yet. I’ve been playing 13 years.”

He explained that he wanted to start playing the bagpipes because of his Irish heritage. The cost for a set like his is around $6,000.

Although he has performed at the festival before, this was the first time that he brought his pipes for the public’s enjoyment.

He said for the most part, people have been curious.

“I get some nice comments and it’s been all right,” he added. “I enjoy it. I won’t be living off of it of course . . . but it is lots of fun. Some toonies for the tunes.”

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