Busking in Seattle

March 24th, 2009

Man, you gotta love the street buskers here in Seattle. I was down at the Market this past weekend and snapped a few photos of Slimpickins. I only stuck around long enough for one tune or so, but it was pretty boisterous. I felt like I’d been transported back in time 150 years, especially when the lone female in the group summarized the song by saying, “That one’s called [insert song title], written by Annie Ford. That’s me.” Her name alone won style-points in my book. Not to mention the steel standup bass the one guy had. Not sure I’ve ever seen one of those.

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I couldn’t remember if I’d seen Slimpickins down there before, but it got me thinking about the other busking mainstays along Pike Place, and downtown in general. One of my favorites is the old ponytailed guy playing his out-of-tune, mini-upright piano. As sure as the sun does rise, you can find him at the end of Pine Street, facing the market and serenading the passers by. Given his barely audible voice, I like to imagine that he’s singing about Unicorns, wizards and various winged creatures. My girl and I have also fiercely debated his albino-istic features. Then there’s the rowdy, a cappella soul/gospel/R&B group (noticeably absent this weekend). There’s the Ecuadorian (or is it Peruvian?) pipe-and-flute group, but they seem to mass-produce those guys for all festivals, fairs, and street corners. And there’s the one-man-band, robo-techno dude with the crazy getup usually outside of Nordstrom. A group of teenager rock wanna-bes has been inhabiting the space outside Pacific Place a lot lately, complete with battery-powered amps.

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Of course, my all-time favorite busker, the Tuba Man (aka Ed McMichael), was tragically beaten and killed by asshole teenagers this past October. Despite never conversing with the fellow, I felt like I knew the Tuba Man. He was as ubiquitous as they come, as far as sporting events were concerned. Even in the days of the Kingdome, as a youngster going to ballgames with my dad, I’d see him out there. He was busking in Seattle.

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Help me out, did I forget any other notable Seattle street musicians?

Posted by LB | Filed in Seattle Music Scene


23 Responses to “Busking in Seattle”

  1. March 24th, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    Chris Craig said:

    On a lucky day you can find the guy playing the saw. It must take a lot of skill and desperation to find those warbly notes, akin to a low-fi theramin.

  2. March 24th, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    Kevin leDoux said:

    There’s 4-finger Joe with the banged up guitar always set up for Mariners Games right under the overhang of the Qwest Convention Center on Occidental. Don’t think I’ve ever eaten a single “Edgar Dog” without his accompaniment (dunno if his names Joe but he’s a 4 finger sumthin er uther)

  3. March 24th, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    Kevin leDoux said:

    Oh, and if you get out of downtown, you can always find Seattle’s most annoying busker on the rim of Greenlake where the public parking dumps each of the city’s powerwalkers onto the trail. He’s the dude with the gray mop-top who’s akin to sticking his finger in his ear and pretending it’s a cellphone and then telling you it’s not a cell phone but only his finger in his ear… Hi-lar-ious! Especially the 30th time.
    (Yep, I do a lot of powerwalkin)

  4. March 24th, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    The Lady said:

    There was someone singing in the back stairways of the market who I thought for sure was Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes. He was singing Neutral Milk Hotel as a high school field trip gathered around and watched. I had one of those ‘all is right with the world’ moments.

    I remember a guy on the Ave that would take requests and knew just about anything and everything.

    AND, I like that bluegrass band who is at the Farmer’s Markets who has a lady tapping as their percussion.

  5. March 24th, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    LB said:

    I haven’t seen the saw guy, but I did have to google theremin. The saw makes a pretty eerie sound, though, which would be cool to see on a street corner.

  6. March 24th, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    LB said:

    “Seattle’s most annoying busker”: now there’s a category I missed!

    It’s amazing how many are all around the city…and that they’re present enough for us to easily remember ‘em…

  7. March 24th, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    Kevin leDoux said:

    The Theremin.. every untalented musician’s best friend.
    Making music is like casting a spell…

  8. March 24th, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    Chris Morales said:

    The one Bosker that always blows me away it the guy spends the summers outside of the Norstrom downtown and plays bottle and cans but adds samples to this work. He will then record the sessions and release them at a later time.

    More then any Bosker trough… I severely miss my old dear friend Eva Las Vegas. She has one of the MOST powerful female voices in bosking today.

  9. March 24th, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    C-Leb said:

    Thanks LB for dropping a line about the most under-rated and hardest working musicians in Seattle, or any town for that matter. Busking is probably one of the most difficult and revealing ways to perform live music there is (and i don’t mean every musician and his dog busking Bumbershoot and The Bite). You won’t find too many performers next to the Starbucks at Westlake Center and then at Nuemos later that night… Thats because it f’n difficult and for most musicians considered “below them”… maybe not out loud but the underlying meaning is there for sure…

  10. March 24th, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    B2 said:

    What about possible Seattle’s most famous busker? Spoonman. I mean there was a song about him and all….

  11. March 24th, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    LB said:

    Funny, I always thought he was just a heroin dealer…

  12. March 24th, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    Chris Craig said:

    Possibly. Back in “the day” the rumour was he was living in a bus on piece of property over on the peninsula that was owned by The Flying Karamozov Brothers. Off the grid, crazy jugglers, lots of spoons, maybe heroine per LB, all made for an interesting display. Truth is you were bored of watching him after 5 minutes.

  13. March 24th, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    chris Morales said:

    I was working for Ministry when that Spoonman song was released. Everyone in Chicago Trax was convinced it was a heroin anthem.

    then again, we worked with Ministry.

    Everything was apparently a heroin anthem.

  14. March 24th, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    C-Leb said:

    makes sense our cities staple is a needle… from SPACE!…

  15. March 24th, 2009 at 7:23 pm

    Tom.Blodgett said:

    Ha ha! The S.L.U.T., the needle, all we are missing is the meth-o-rail and something huge sponsored by Coke.

    This article is way overdue and I commend all those buskers making my walk on a cloudy day a little better! The great buskers far outweigh the ones requesting to be punched in the face for dollar (have you seen this?) or who are straining to be as good as a Nirvana turd.

    There is one awesome portly fellow who performs at the Ballard market, enhances the experience, and deserves fistfuls of dollars! Whoever that is I would like to know!

  16. March 25th, 2009 at 7:46 am

    LB said:

    Oh, yeah, I forgot about “the 15th Ave Fiddler”, either outside QFC or Safeway…or both!

  17. March 25th, 2009 at 11:37 am

    Kevin leDoux said:

    Actually, at the Ballard market, I’ve seen some of the best ol’ timey buskers around. And they’re usually about 13 years old sportin a fiddle, a dog and a pie tin. There are usually 4-5 different ones set up and the overwhelming sound is folk and bluegrass. Makes the hippie farmers shake ‘dem ‘bows. I dig.

  18. April 11th, 2009 at 8:01 am

    LB said:

    For anyone who cares, there’ll be tribute to the Tuba Man during the 7th inning stretch of Tuesday’s M’s home opener. YES!

    http://www.seattlepi.com/local/405029_tuba10ww.html

  19. May 27th, 2009 at 12:41 pm

    gp said:

    so good to have found this site here. enjoyed reading the busking comments. i just moved to the area from upstate ny. long time musician, but haven’t busked a hell of a lot. been thinking about doing some in seattle and was wondering if anyone could suggest some decent places other than the obvious market? i play musical saw, banjo, guitar and sing. i like using the violin bow on the banjo + guitar as well. it’s oldtimey sounding music with some world music influences, drone, minimalism, ambient, chant like, etc.

  20. August 20th, 2009 at 9:07 pm

    Jiff said:

    Love Slimpickins. Saw them today, without the deep voice singer guy, but with a woman on guitar and saw today, called themselves Iron Itchin.

  21. August 26th, 2009 at 8:29 pm

    Mark said:

    Anyone know the laws in Seattle on Busking? I just contacted SPD and haven’t heard back, but they often take a bit of time to get back, at least via the web site.

  22. March 26th, 2010 at 11:45 pm

    Neal said:

    For one one who commented on the Theremin.I play it and the Cello,drums and bass.Along with modular synth and Piano.A theremin is easy to play but hard to do it right.Perhaps one should not be such an snoby musician.I’m from out of state and one thing most people say about Seattle is that there snobby and stuck up.If you ask one,they say it’s because there better and I’m here to say that it’s not true.Seattle is NO better than any other city.And there music scene is very limited.I make more money in New Orleans.Which is why I’m going back.

  23. April 7th, 2010 at 10:58 am

    Fobbs said:

    we’re gonna miss ya neal.

    to busk in seattle you need a permit, i think it’s just 10 bucks if i remember correctly. there are several “stations” in the market, you get an hour at a station and have to kind of wait in line for your turn.



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