ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Busking in Seattle

Updated on December 26, 2016

What's It Like Street Performing in Seatown?

I have been busking on the streets of Seattle off and on since 2001, and doing a little bit of street music before then. Seattle is one of the more busker-friendly cities in the United States, with a fair number of legal places to perform, and loads of individuals and groups doing just that. This lens is meant to share some of my preferred busking spots in Seattle, the requirements for performing at such spots; and some of my fellow street performers, along with their images and sounds.

A good many performers in or from Seattle got their start as buskers at Pike Place Market and elsewhere in the Seattle area. We perform at festivals, open mics, street fairs, bus tunnels, and practically anywhere else one is allowed to make a bit of noise and earn a bit of cash for entertaining locals and visitors alike. The current economic unpleasantness has also affected the livelihoods of street musicians (as will be discussed at more length below); but our work in creating music, culture and community continues apace, and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon...

UPDATE (MONDAY, DECEMBER 23, 2013): We Seattle buskers need to revive the Pike Market Buskers' Guild! The buskers are still at the Market in terrific numbers and regularity; but our annual Buskers' Festival didn't happen last year, because no one could seem to come together to organize the event. That simply won't do. My fellow buskers and I really ought to get together at a suitable coffeehouse and talk about this...

Links to Current and Former Seattle Buskers - Because there's no such thing as bad publicity...

Here's a small collection of links to the sites and Myspace profiles of several musicians who have graced the Seattle pavement (Pike Place Market, Folklife, etc.) with their presence and music. I hope that Seattle buskers not on this list will send me links to their profiles or websites, so I can include them here. Some are no longer with us, and some have moved on to bigger and better platforms; but I want to give them due credit for keeping street performing alive in our wet and windy city!

P.S. I'm looking for links to more female buskers and Seattle musicians of color. I know they're out there...!

A Brief Bit About Busking in Seattle

Even in this line of work, there's no lack of competition.

Like many people in the Pacific Northwest, I am quite susceptible to seasonal depression; and I've found that playing music outdoors is the only activity (besides listening to Qawwali music) that consistently relieves this condition. Hence, I try to keep at it year-round, even though my 30-year-old nylon-string guitar prefers to avoid outdoor temperatures below 45 degrees. Busking, or street performing, is also a good outlet when indoor club gigs become hard to come by. There is seldom any lack of work for the dedicated street musician; and Seattle has proven itself quite busker-friendly overall, even if Pike Place Market tends to frown on drummers and players of brass instruments, who are more inclined to congregate at Westlake Mall, or at the Seattle Center, weather permitting. The current state of the economy, unfortunately, has not left buskers unscathed; many of us find good tips from public passersby increasingly hard to come by. But plenty of us are still out there strumming on the pavement, just because it's good for one's mental health, at the very least.

Pike Place Market, as aforementioned, is the most obvious first choice for many Seattle street musicians, despite the frequent competition for choice spots, especially on weekends. Performing spots, for specific numbers of musicians or other performers, are designated by red-painted notes on the pavements; and performing permits are obtainable at the Market office for $30.00 per year, running from one Tax Day (April 15) to the next year's Tax Day. The permits themselves, and especially the required annual fee, have sparked controversy on occasion--even a bit of litigation now and again. Personally, I'm not opposed to the permits per se, as they tend to pay for themselves pretty quickly. I just hope the permit fees don't go up again anytime soon; there have been a couple of years when I had to put off renewing my permit when the money got really tight. When I play at the Market, I try to play folk material that's upbeat and not too edgy, since I'm mainly entertaining tourists and families with small children. Catching the attention of kids is a good tactic for getting their family members to stop and listen (and hopefully tip you!). Plus, as a larger-sized person, it always makes me happy to create a positive example as a performer for other people of size--especially children and youth. I save my edgier songs for busking in the University District.

However, there are numerous other places for busking in Seattle besides the Market. The Seattle Metro bus tunnel station entrances, especially the one at Westlake Center, is one of my favorite performing spots. The acoustics are splendid, and one can get in out of the elements to some degree. One can perform both outside and inside the station entrance there, as long as one doesn't play inside the tunnel station itself; and they don't charge you a permit fee to do so. A number of musicians like to play in the plaza area itself at Westlake Center; I myself like to stand under an awning or other sheltering mechanism; it protects you from sudden bursts of rain, and I like to have something to project my voice on, in order to be heard over the traffic.

The University of Washington Bookstore in Seattle's U-District is another of my personal favorite busking spots. Before I began playing by the bike-parking section several years ago, I first had a little discussion with the folks in the bookstores's fourth-floor office, just to make sure it was okay with them. This is another good covered spot, for those of us who don't like our instruments--or their cases--to get rained on. Here is where I like to do more obscure and political folk ballads, just making sure I'm not loud enough to disturb moviegoers at the Varsity Cinema across the street. This spot is particularly nice for performing during the December holiday season, when the Christmas (or whatever holiday...) lights come on around you as the sun sets and the building shadows lengthen.

Summer music festivals in Seattle--some of them, at least--also attract a fair number of local buskers; and each festival has its own policy regarding buskers on the festival grounds. My favorite festivals to work as a street performer are the Northwest Folklife Festival, the Fremont Fair, and the University District Street Fair. Most other street fairs and farmer's market events in Seattle are also busker-friendly; but I have less personal experience with those. I highly recommend visiting each event's website in advance of performing therein, to check out the event's busking policy; permits are usually not required. In any case, even if I'm not officially selected to perform at the aforementioned festivals, I can still play there, on or off the program!

Buskers have not escaped the deleterious effects of the current economic recession. Tips have become few and far between for many street performers, throughout the United States. I am fortunate in that busking tips are not my only income; many musicians, however, have been forced to--shall we say--"diversify" their musical and other employment options. At the same time, one cannot help but notice that the empty retail entrances where one can set up a performance spot have increased in number and location in the greater Seattle area. It is to be hoped that we can collectively extricate ourselves from this economic rut we're stuck in at present; and that live, impromptu public music performances can be "stimulated" substantially in the next few years. Buskers, of course, cannot readily be "laid off"; but we hope that our craft will recover and pay better once again--the same hope shared by workers in every other profession.

Check Out Our Featured Busker MP3!

Handsful O' Blues by Reggie Miles, Seattle's own acoustic blues genius...

Handsful O' Blues
Handsful O' Blues

Handsful O' Blues by Reggie Miles: Seattle's own acoustic blues genius.

 

Seattle Street Performers on Youtube - Hopefully they got tipped for the tapings...

A few old Seattle classics in this collection--including the late Jim Hinde, Amber Tide, and some of Jason Webley's early busking experiences...

Seattle's Punk-Folk Accordion Guy

Jason Webley has long been my favorite local performer. He's toured the world, and worked with many other amazing artists; but he always comes home to Seattle sooner or later. Here's a very early video of his when he was still busking at the Northwest Folklife Festival, around 2000 or '01.

The best music heard at Seattle's Northwest Folklife Festival is often produced by the buskers and pickup bands on the grass and pavements. I've been there and done that many times myself...

#RIP Amber Tide

Here's a fine stage performance by my old friends Amber Tide: the husband-and-wife duo of Thaddeus Spae (aka my recording engineer), and his late wife and vocal partner Sandahbeth Spae (1950-2008).

You'll connect with your readers. If you type a sentence here about why you love this video.

You'll connect with your readers. If you type a sentence here about why you love this video.

You'll connect with your readers. If you type a sentence here about why you love this video.

You'll connect with your readers. If you type a sentence here about why you love this video.

You'll connect with your readers. If you type a sentence here about why you love this video.

You'll connect with your readers. If you type a sentence here about why you love this video.

You'll connect with your readers. If you type a sentence here about why you love this video.

Seattle Buskers on Amazon - Seattle Street Musicians, Past and Present

Here are just a few of the fine local artists who got their start busking at Pike Place Market and other Seattle-area nooks and crannies...

Reader Feedback: the Busker's CyberCase - Because buskers like to hear from their audience...

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • D Shannahan profile image

      D Shannahan 

      14 months ago from Everywhere Man!

      awesome hub, interested in trying this out , gotta break the ice!

    • profile image

      Tim 

      20 months ago

      Who was that fantastic guitar duo playing at the entrance to Pike Place market Christmas day 2016? Want to get their cd.

    • tristanplaysgui profile image

      tristanplaysgui 

      4 years ago

      Hey, you forgot some very important spots.

      The Ballard and Wallingford Farmers Markets are very busker friendly, and less competitive than Pike Place. People usually carry cash here, and are very open to hearing you play.

      Also, Green Lake is great. While many joggers don't carry money or stop, they always smile. The audience is constantly changing, and the sun this year has been fantastic. Couples and children are always profitable, both of which Green Lake has in abundance.

    • mltnpnw profile image

      mltnpnw 

      5 years ago

      Seattle is the first city that I've lived in that is busker friendly. It's a treat to listen to you guys play.

    • profile image

      LarryWParker 

      5 years ago

      I love the buskers of Seattle; I consider myself a 'collector'. I always tip when I listen and often when I don't. I know some of your listed buskers from the street, some from the Moisture Festival and some not at all. Most of the buskers I listen to are not even on this list. I saw a comment that you would like more women who busk and buskers of color. There is a terrific Cuban marimba player who shows up at Roosevelt Whole Foods (a great place to catch buskers but watch out for the 6 string player with the long blond hair, he's trouble!). I will certainly look out for women although except for a fiddler who I heard playing with an old time string group on one of the ferries and occasional classical performers who always say they are on school break, I have seen none. Keep up the good work.

    • LairMistress profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen I Olsen 

      5 years ago from Seattle, WA USA

      @reggiesblues: Done! Thanks for the update! :)

    • profile image

      reggiesblues 

      5 years ago

      Hello this is a wonderful post about street performers. Please note that the link provided for street performer Reggie Miles' website (MySpace profile) has been nonfunctional for years. That link is broken. Please Google "Reggie Miles" and select his Google Sites website to link to instead.

      Many thanks, Reggie Miles

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      5 years ago

      Hello, the link that you've added in the section (Links to Current and Former Seattle Buskers) for Reggie Miles' website (MySpace profile) is broken. That site no longer exists and has become nonfunctional. Please use the following.

      sites.google.com/site/reggiemiles

      Many thanks!

    • Ayerox profile image

      Ayerox 

      6 years ago

      another reason to come to Seattle :)

    • Ramkitten2000 profile image

      Deb Kingsbury 

      9 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

      I'd never heard the term "busking" before. This is really interesting and well done. I've seen and heard some amazing performances on city streets, even in small cities like here in Flagstaff, Arizona. Some much better than what I often see on tv or hear on the radio.

    • profile image

      Andy-Po 

      9 years ago

      Excellent lens. I haven't been to Seattle yet. Sounds interesting.

    • mysticmama lm profile image

      Bambi Watson 

      9 years ago

      very cool lens, never heard it called busking before, thanks :)

    • greenerme profile image

      greenerme 

      9 years ago

      This is really cool! I've been to Pike's Place Market, maybe I saw you there! I was there in 2005 and would love to go back. Very nice work!

    • profile image

      sulynsi 

      9 years ago

      This is one important aspect of city life I do miss. The talent on the streets is amazing! Some of the artists in the subway system in Toronto were obviously doing it part-time, because their full-time work must have been with major musical companies, they were so amazing! Thanks for the insight. Do you think you'd enjoy a stint in Charlottetown PEI for the summer? Lots of tourists!! Nice and warm then too, for your poor old guitar!

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)