To busk is a must: Athens’ street performing culture

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Trever McWebb’s cardboard sign that reads “Nashville Bound.” Photo by Evan Chwalek.

If ever in Athens on a Saturday night, buskers can be found performing among the hazy lights. As people walk the streets, the energetic sound of busking fills the air and makes the atmosphere discernibly different. Students dance next to bongo players. If enjoyed, money is tossed into buckets. Humans that tread to uptown Athens find that they are met with peculiar smells and even more peculiar sights.

Busking is another word for street performing. Street performers possess a variety of talents and those abilities are reflected in the busking culture of Athens. From jugglers to singers, dancers to hoopers, and even instrumentalists, there is no shortage of flair.

The weekend is the perfect time to entertain because uptown is filled with people. Students and members of the community traverse the streets in search of drinks, relaxation or fun. Buskers know this is the perfect time to display their talents.

Athens’ busking culture is prominent and teeming with life. Performers are not hard to find. Whether on the courthouse steps or in the nooks and crannies of storefronts, artists set up shop all over in the hopes of delighting audiences, and even earning a few bucks. The assortment of buskers to ponder is great in size.

Ethan Ennis

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A freshman studying studio art, Ethan Ennis has been juggling since he was 10 years old. Ennis accredits the ease with which he performs to muscle memory. He has been practicing the art for 8 years now, and was dazzled by the first time he saw a busker.

The first time Ennis saw busking was while visiting Disney World. The tantalizing sight of the performer in the streets made him want to pick up the art himself. Ennis uses a variation on devil sticks—dubbed “flower sticks”—to wow spectators.

Ennis can do an assortment of tricks with his manipulation devices. His favorite ruse involves twirling them. His preferred location to juggle, though, is outside, and is so for a reason.

“I like to throw it up high,” Ennis said.

The first time Ennis busked was in Athens. He loves it when spectators come up during his display and ask him to try it. That art form allows for a fun way for him to interact with individuals on the street.

“It’s always fun doing something that not everybody else does,” Ennis said.

Ennis also likes to think and listen to music while he juggles, too. For him, it is a way to relax and unwind outside of his studies.

Autumn Johnson

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A freshman studying studio art, Autumn Johnson has been hooping for two years now.  As a result, it has become a big part of her life

In the past eight months, Johnson has had two surgeries. Being incapacitated made it hard for her to practice her art form. She believes if she were ever to be without her hoops again she would be missing a piece of her identity. Johnson feels lucky to be back at it once more.

In fact, before Johnson arrived in Athens, she was amusing people with her hooping in Pomeroy, Ohio. Now, she is busking on the streets of Athens. She even wants to become more involved in the culture during HallOUween. Johnson has many tricks to share with spectators, too.

One trick that she especially likes to do uses two hoops. She spins one hoop on the top of her hips and the other on her knee. Johnson acknowledges the abnormal nature of her talent, but that doesn’t stop her from doing what she loves.

“It’s a weird talent that no one else really has,” Johnson said. “I always joked to people in high school that I was going to drop out and join the circus”.

Luckily, Johnson has found more hoopers at OU. She hopes to share with them her enthusiasm for the art.

Trever McWebb & Buda

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McWebb and his friend Buda take a break from performing. Photo by Evan Chwalek.

Trever McWebb, a 25-year-old artist and musician, is also a busker who performs on the streets of Athens. One of his best friends and bandmates, Buda, exhibits his musical abilities there as well. These artists have experience and talent under their belts.

McWebb plays a variety of instruments. Specifically, he plays the acoustic, electric, and bass guitars. He also dabbles with the banjo and mandolin; he sings, too. Buda has been playing the bongo for eight to nine years. He is starting to explore new instruments, such as the didgeridoo. Both are receptive to the performing culture in Athens.

At the time of the interview, it was only Buda’s second time busking. McWebb has been busking for two years. McWebb has played in many places in Ohio, some of which include Columbus, Lima and Zanesville. Both share a passion for the audiences for whom they display their talents.

“I love to make strangers smile,” McWebb said. “It’s nice to brighten the nights of people I may never see again.”

Buda and McWebb both have stories to share about performing. Buda loves to people watch; he thinks it’s cool to see who stops to listen or dance. McWebb’s first night busking in Athens came with a surprise kiss from a female audience member. He also got a corn dog tossed into his bucket once. Despite Athens’ eccentricities, both praise the busking culture.

“Athens is the most welcoming place,” McWebb said. Overall, Athens is McWebb’s and Buda’s favorite place to busk.

Athens’ street performing culture is thriving. One walk of Athens’ uptown on the weekend is proof in and of itself.

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