I street performed for years all over the world. Juggling and comedy shows free to the public and costly to me. It was a really great challenge to perform day after day in whatever the weather; being threatened by other performers and intimidated by police.
After performing with Brooks & Dunn in 2001, I performed at some comedy clubs across the southwest with Chris Karney, then went to New Orleans for 3 months to live in a French Quarter apartment and learn more on the streets.
It had been my first real street performing city in 2000 when I went full-time as a performer. Even though I had done tons of shows since age 11 and a little busking on the Nashville streets, 2000 was the real leap of faith into my abyss of passing the hat. I had read some books about it. The internet wasn’t very robust at that time and I didn’t have a cell phone. I was leaving all my friends behind and diving into the flames of New Orleans summer. Street performing was terrible there at that time. I was terrible as a performer anyway, so I couldn’t tell, but I was able to make enough money to pay for my youth hostile most nights and buy myself some bread and beans (seriously eating hobo food … or maybe cowboy. Maybe I should think of it as cowboy food).
It was hot and difficult and the tourists had mostly left. So had the other street performers. I met some guys from the UK and Australia that wanted a ride. They paid to have my car fixed and; I drove them to Miami Beach, Key West, and PA. I don’t know how I would have gotten out without them. I was broke, but they handled my expenses, gave me a copy of “On the Road” and helped me get to Boston.
This was still mostly pre-pancake for me. I was doing a juggling and comedy show with a few weird tricks, but it was mostly straight-ahead stuff and it worked. I stayed with a friend for a little while until I started sharing a small studio apartment in the quarter with another street performer. And his girlfriend. And their chicken. And eventually two other street performers.
It wasn’t terrible, it was how we lived. It was what we did. Coming home dirty, covered in soot. Plopping down on the floor (we had no furniture besides inflatable mattresses), opening up our bags of money, and stacking and counting cash. Street performing had a lot of bad aspects to it, but one of the great things is that moment. You’re spent physically and mentally, wearing the evidence of your work, and counting the money you made that day. Instant reward. Simplicity.
The shows were fun this time sometimes. I met performers that I’d only heard of. Though not high tippers, the audiences were drunk Mardi Gras folks who liked to heckle, get involved and veered from the script. People would come in during a show yelling. Dudes would challenge me to do certain tricks. Nobody punched me, but it felt like that could happen all day every day.
I had a new website up and I wanted to get some traffic, so I started taking photos of my crowds and telling them they could see the photos on my site. At the end of my show, I did a trick standing on two volunteers. Before I got to the trick, I’d pull out a camera and take photos of the crowds. Below are a few of those photos. I told people to shout really loud for the photos I guess because I thought it was funny. So did they.
This is how I survived the winter that year. I just got by without saving much cash. I learned a lot more about performing and dealing with unruly people. I also learned what makes people unruly incase I ever want to encourage that.