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Renaissance Faires - To Tip a Bard...

Updated on May 11, 2012

We're all familiar with the tradition of tipping a waiter for good service, and a majority of us know about holiday gratuities for folks like your postman and newspaper delivery person and tips for the folks who clean your hotel room; but how many people are familiar with the tradition of giving tips to entertainers?

Let's take a closer look at the traditions of busking, and of tipping your bard or minstrel....

busk (busk)

intr.v. busked, busk·ing, busks To play music or perform entertainment in a public place, usually while soliciting money.

[Earlier, to be an itinerant performer, probably from busk, to go about seeking, cruise as a pirate, perhaps from obsolete French busquer, to prowl, from Italian buscare, to prowl, or Spanish buscar, to seek, from Old Spanish boscar.]

Courtesy of the American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

A Brief History of Busking

As far back as records go, there have been people who made their living by providing entertainment on the street and in public places in exchange for tips or gratuities. Indeed, in earlier times, the travelling entertainer was your primary source of news outside of your area, as well as the most exciting entertainment available to you. (After all, you already knew all of Uncle Knute's stories by heart....)

Since the 1860s, such public entertainers are referred to as buskers (from the Spanish "buscar" - to seek, since they're seeking fame and fortune), but in medieval France, they were called jongleurs or trouvieres; in Germany, minnesingers or spielleute; and in England, minstrels or bards.

Since the advent of radio, television and the movies, most people have far less experience with live entertainment, and even less with busking. This kind of entertainment is one of the great experiences at a renaissance faire, the chance to see a live performance and interact directly with a musician, actor or other performer.

But let's get back to that "for tips or gratuities" part of the equation...

Some Faires Let You Tip Entertainers...and Some Don't...

I've worked at a number of different faires, but certainly not at all of them. Fortunately, I have connections with a lot of faire people in many different locations. On the topic of busking, my sources inform me that some faires allow entertainers to busk for tips....and some do not. Indeed, if there's a pattern, it seems to be that more of the larger faires do not permit tipping, while small to medium faires are more likely to permit it.

To each their own. Just like different towns do, every renaissance faire has it's own culture and practices, and that's a good thing.

From a personal standpoint, though, I like the option of busking for gratuities. It's a long standing tradition that lets the audience express their appreciation, as well as get a feel of what it was like to live in the renaissance.

Why Would I Want to Tip an Entertainer?

Do you have to tip entertainers?

No. You never have to tip anyone at the renaissance faire- but there are a number of good reasons that you might want to (if it's permitted.)

First and foremost, as it is for waitresses, tips are often part or all of how the entertainers make their living, and can make the difference between paying the rent or not. While the big acts may be hired, many smaller acts perform for the gratuities, or the chance to sell CDs and other memorabilia.

Next, a gratuity is a way of expressing your appreciation for an act that particularly pleased you. Most performers have put in a lot of work and practice in order to have the skills to entertain you, and your gratuity acknowledges this work, as well as expressing your response to the act itself.

Third, the quality of genorousity was a characteristic that was valued throughout the middle ages, and tipping your minstrel lets you have the experience of what it was like to live in those days.

Finally, supporting the arts and the artists helps them to continue to hone their skills and present amazing performances like the ones you have just seen. If we want live entertainment, we need to support it so people will be able to afford to continue to do it.

How Do You Know When You Can Tip?

Some performers are more subtle. If you see a hat, a cup or an instrument case on the ground in front of the entertainer with some coins or bills in it, please feel free to tip.

Some are more blatant. They'll have a receptacle or jar marked "TIPS"prominantly dsplayed.

Some are more blatant yet. They will pass the hat during or at the end of the performance to give you the chance. Many of these folks have humorous patter designed to remind you that you can tip them and they'd appreciate it if you did.

How Much to Tip

This is completely up to you. As opposed to the standards we have for restaurant staff in this day and age, this is totally your call.

Some people tip with change. Some with bills.Some with a combination of both.

When leaving a tip, I'd look at a few factors:

  • What your budget permits.
  • How much the performer has put into the performance.
  • How much pleasure or excitement you've gotten out of the enetertainment.

Then consult your heart and give what feels right to you.

There are Other People to Tip

Buskers or entertainers are the primary people that you may want to tip at a faire, but there are other people that you might want to acknowledge with a gratuity.

Many food booths have a tips jar to let you recognize good service. If you feel you've been served well, tip and see what happens. (Many food booths will cry "Huzzah" for tippers or otherwise acknowledge you....)

Volunteers also will sometimes accept tips. As an example, at several of the faires that I work at, there is a "Hitting and Stabbing Emporium" where patrons can pay a nominal fee to have the chance to throw knives, axes or spears. It's mostly staffed by young volunteers, who work very hard to make your experience exciting and fun.

If you're so minded, keep an eye out for a "Tips" jar- the sign that gratuities are appreciated...

When Tipping is Not Permitted

What do you do if tipping is not permitted, but you still want to express your appreciation?

First of all, applaud. Applaud loudly. Get silly with it, if the quality of the performance moves you. Like everyone else, entertainers need to know that their work has meaning and is appreciated.

Applause draws other people to see the show. Applause also lets management know that this is a hot act that should be invited back.

Next, if the entertainer is selling CDs or other souveneirs, buy one if you liked the performance. Even if you can get it online, it gives the entertainer more encouragement to sell them in person (and he gets more of the profits that way).

If you really liked the performance, buy several CDs and give them to friends and family. (Get your holiday shopping over with early)

Addtionally, you can write a note of commendation and put it someplace helpful. Post it on FB, particularly on the page for the faire. Drop a note to the faire mangement. Share the info on this great act with your friends.

If you publicize and support the act's work, you help him keep doing what he's doing (which is good for you, too.)

Finally, tell the act. That's right- just tell them. Encouragement helps keep artists inspired.

To Tip, or Not To Tip....

...that is the question.

You're not required to tip at all; but tipping a busker or other entertainer supports the arts, lets you show how you felt about the entertainment, makes you part of a tradition that runs thorough the ages and helps, in its own way, to keep live entertainment alive in a time where it's a rare experience.

For these reasons, and many more, if you liked the performance, I'd recommend that you drop something in the hat for the performers.

Tip your bard.

You'll be glad that you did....


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    • Catherine Kane profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Kane 

      6 years ago

      well, thank you Peggy W. I'm glad to be of service :)

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      I have attended a Renaissance Fair just outside of Houston, Texas and never noticed any tipping...passing of a hat, etc. It was probably not allowed. Your ideas are great ones to let the entertainers know that you appreciate their work. Voted up and useful. Thanks!

    • Catherine Kane profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Kane 

      6 years ago

      I know one group that will improvise a scene based on the movie or tv show of your choice for a gratuity.


      and the lovely thing is that you can tip them to do this for the person of your choice...

    • profile image

      Pokie-Poke the Jongleur 

      6 years ago

      I will often give discounts to fairs that let me busk, as I started as a busker in NYC. when I was a kid. the feed back is the thing, just fold it up and put it in the hat!

      want to have fun, at a fair where you don't tip rap a coin in a bill and toss it on stage so every one can see it, the look on the performers face can some times be worth the $2. on its own.

    • Catherine Kane profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Kane 

      6 years ago

      Jama, you're welcome.

      I realized that this was unfamiliar territory for many folks, and thought that some history and guidelines might make it more approachable...

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 

      6 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      Catherine, thanks so much for giving us the inside info on a part of Faire many faire-goers probably never think about. I've never been to an out-of-state faire, but the one I did visit practically every weekend for two seasons did allow tipping.

    • Catherine Kane profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Kane 

      6 years ago

      Thanks so much. I'm glad that I could be of service

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      This is an EXCELLENT article. I only wish it had been written three years ago - my home-state Renaissance Faire does not allow tipping (but they do allow sale of merchandise), so when I visited an out-of-state faire and performers were engaging in the "pass the hat" practices I was a bit taken aback.


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