2018-09-06 / Around Town


Busking Becoming Bountiful in Newport
By Mark Gorman

Violinist Ilana Katz Katz enjoys busking. Violinist Ilana Katz Katz enjoys busking. Busking is defined as “playing music or otherwise performing for voluntary donations in the street or in subways.” While busking in Newport typically involves musicians playing in Queen Anne Square or at busy intersections around town, it is a thriving part of the music-tourism industry in many other cities, both in the U.S. and worldwide. Some places, like Key West, Florida, even license and schedule their busking musicians.

In 2016, city councilor Lynn Ceglie sponsored a resolution clarifying busking in Newport. “I asked the city manager and solicitor if there was an ordinance prohibiting busking,” she said. “Neither knew of one and yet there was great confusion in the community, along with [a lot of] misinformation.” I wrote a resolution clarifying the issue. Busking is within a person’s right of free speech, [but] buskers must comply with ordinances that prohibit the blocking of sidewalks and harassment.”

Mark Gorman is a retired high school guidance counselor and guitarist-vocalist who performs locally each week. Mark Gorman is a retired high school guidance counselor and guitarist-vocalist who performs locally each week. A few local artists are spearheading moves to bring more street performance to Newport. Local artist Kelly Clemens is behind an effort to present street performance in Washington Square. Passersby can sometimes enjoy dance, living statues and buskers as they amble through that vibrant part of town.

“Washington Square is a sleeping beauty. This is the heart of the theater arts district that the city has always deserved. Bringing art and performance to the intimacy of street level is the goal of the Washington Square Street Performers,” Clemens said.

Local percussionist Aaron Cote began a busking series on Bowen’s Wharf several years ago as part of BridgeFest. “As a traveling musician on cruise lines for years, I noticed street musicians publicly celebrating their culture in virtually every port,” he said. “Since Newport hosts cruise ships, I wanted to promote our local art and culture. We’ve celebrated Busking on Bowen’s since 2013.”

What started out as a four-day BridgeFest has expanded into an annual fall series that features 20 dates during the height of the cruise ship season.

“City Hall originally treated our busking concept as an event and initially informed me that we would be required to purchase an event permit,” Cote said. “We chose Bowen’s Wharf specifically because it is private property. Bowen’s has been supportive of the arts since the first day we approached them and we look forward to continuing our relationship with them.”

While some folks might assume that busking is an activity reserved for beginners or unknowns, the opposite is true in Newport. Busking on Bowen’s Wharf features many of Newport’s well-known musicians. Vizztone recording artist Ilana Katz Katz makes her living playing violin across the country and has been playing in the Boston subways since 2008. Blues guitar legend Ronnie Earl has called her “brilliant and soulful.”

She just released her third album, titled “Subway Stories,” and Newport This Week asked why she enjoys busking, particularly in Newport.

“I love busking because it brings music to people who might not otherwise hear live music,” she said. “Busking is different from other performances, because there is something about playing on the streets while people come up and talk to you. I love knowing that I connect with people.”

Although she plays in Newport fairly often, busking on Bowen’s Wharf remains one of her favorite activities. “It’s a very special experience to perform on Bowen’s Wharf. Bowen’s is the very first place I offered [listeners] homebaked chocolate chip cookies for free, which I am known for now,” she said.

Busking is widely recognized as a positive addition to a tourist town. “Music is a spectacle that attracts people. Newport is a destination for dining, shopping and art, and when you welcome visitors with free music in the streets, they’re happy to return to a joyful place,” Cote said.

Ceglie concurred. “Every place that I visit that has a lively busking community has a nice friendly atmosphere,” she said.

For the complete Busking on Bowen’s schedule, visit Busking at Bowen’s Fall Series 2018 on Facebook.

To Go

WHEN: Sept. 7 - Oct. 24 (selected days)

WHERE: Bowen’s Wharf


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