James and I took a weekend trip up to visit our new friends Monika and Roderick in Belgrave, a beautiful forest town just an hour outside of Melbourne by train.
Busking in Melbourne, Australia
The heavy red curtain falls to the ground. It’s intermission, and the audience spills out of the Center Stage Theatre, buzzing from the musical energy of the show.
A 9 year old in a little pink dress, her mullet haircut askew in a rainbow headband, struts confidently in front of her entire extended family, and – feeling inspired – belts out a song.
Now that I’m 22, I’m not so quick to sing in front of crowds. But if I can remember the bold little girl I once was, I can rack up the courage to perform.
In Australia, they call it “busking.” Here in Melbourne, the art and music center of Australia, you’ll see them everyday. All of these artists are required by the city to get a permit that they audition for. The streets are competitive. There is a lot of talent here. Many people perform as their main livelihood.
On a busy intersection in the CBD a blonde teenager closes her eyes, crooning a quiet song into her microphone while finger picking an acoustic guitar. Her soft voice is magnified by the amplifier so even the traffic and trams cannot block her soothing melodies.
Further down the road a homeless-looking man in a tattered suit and top hat plunks out funky oldies on an old piano. Passers-by are free to request songs from a list on the side, hopefully in exchange for a modest donation. Coins clink in his bucket as Japanese tourists gawk and take photos.
Nighttime, and the city comes alive. Lights dazzle from all directions as cars and trams stream down the road. In the midst of a giggling crowd, a guy in a full-body bunny suit rocks out on his electric guitar, creating a funky beat. Couples laugh arm in arm as they acknowledge his silliness.
Then there’s me, playing my ukulele on a quiet street. I enjoy the echo of my voice bouncing down the alleyways. I put out the case of my instrument and people drop in coins – here they have both a $1 and a $2 coin, which buskers appreciate.
For me, it’s not about the money. I can practice my music and see people’s reactions, what songs work and what songs I should rework.
Busking is a great way for musicians to tackle their stage fright – playing in front of an audience can be scary, especially strangers on the street! The first coin that falls in your hat is a huge encouragement.
I’ve travelled around the USA, in New Zealand, and Australia, and have met many talented musicians who are exploring the world with their instruments. Many sell CDs for $10 or $20 which they make on their computers, turning quite a profit: money that can be put towards flights and hostels so they can keep traveling.
And who knows, there’s always the possibility that a music producer will hear you and fall in love with your music, or that your future band mates might hear your voice and decide they want you in their band, or that you might just cheer up someone who is having a bad day.
For young musicians, I’d say busking is a great way to practice and build your confidence. So get out there, and give it a shot!
About the Author: Amberly Young is a traveling writer, photographer, and musician. She plays piano, flute, ukulele, guitar, and sings. After she graduated from university, she hopped on a plane to New Zealand, stayed there a year volunteering on farms, and spent 4 months travelling in Southeast Asia. She is currently living in Melbourne, Australia, busking around the city with a 1-year working holiday visa!
To hear Abbie Evans perform,(the girl in the second picture) check out her soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/abbieevans
Thanks to We Said Go Travel for also publishing this story, you can see it here: http://www.wesaidgotravel.com/melbourne-australia-busk
After traveling for 18 months in New Zealand, Southeast Asia, and Australia, I was feeling pretty homesick, so I went back to visit to my favorite town in the world, Santa Barbara, California. Reuniting with my family and friends after missing two Christmases and two birthdays has made me appreciate how lucky I am to have such a strong support net.
A lot of my friends moved up north, so I decided to take a few weeks to visit them – I checked out Mammoth, Lake Tahoe, Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, and Santa Cruz.
After skiing with my dad at Mammoth Mountain, I tried to continue on alone to Lake Tahoe, where I had never been before… but my car broke down! Luckily it only took two days to fix, and I had a nice time in the little town of Mammoth. It was snowing, and being from Southern California I never get to spend much time in the snow. When it stopped raining and snowing I bought some roller blades at the thrift store and skated around the scenic bike path that circles the town.
Zigzagging up the narrow mountain roads on the way to Tahoe, I was glad that it wasn’t snowing! Maybe it was fate that my car broke down, because otherwise I would have been driving those steep and dangerous roads in the snow. Once there, I couchsurfed with an amazing girl named Kymber for a few days, she took me to open mic nights and we even got to go zooming around the lake on her friends’ boat!
After Tahoe, I headed to Berkeley, where I stayed with a high-school buddy Skyler at the Wolf Co-Op. Even though I like the concept of communal living, it was so dirty that I couldn’t see myself living there. The next day we wrote a silly song for Mother’s Day that you can watch here, if you like.
I spent the next night with my college friend Shani, and we went balkan dancing – which is really difficult by the way! The counts of the dance are all on threes, fives, and sevens, and I’m used to swing dancing – which is more based on twos and fours.
I checked out the Berkeley Farm Occupation with my old friend Yassi. A vacant lot owned by the UC is one of the last remaining in the area with good soil, and the university plans to convert it into a parking lot. Berkeley students and community members camped out and converted it into a farm over three days. I was lucky enough to help out while they tilled and planted. This DIY farm is an example of community action in motion. Police and the UC system present an obstacle, with loudspeakers blasting “You are violating the law. Cease and desist!” while farm workers sing to counter the negative noise. Keep informed about the fate of this lot via the link above.
Next I saw another childhood friend, Nathan, who is currently working on a big sculpture for Burning Man – check out his stuff here. He received a grant from Burning Man to create an interactive giant pendulum which participants can ride on.
Miraculously I navigated the freeways of San Francisco to find my friend Emily from junior high school, who is studying to be a speech pathologist at San Francisco State University. After a day helping her study for finals and pack up her stuff, I drove down Highway 1 to Santa Cruz, where I graduated from a year and a half ago. There I climbed trees and played frisbee, just like old times.
Finally, my mom took the train from Santa Barbara to Salinas, and I picked her up there. We spent the next two nights driving down the coast, reveling in the sights of Big Sur.
Going on a road trip (mostly) by myself was very empowering, as traveling alone always is. I’d recommend it to anyone. I’m proud of myself for navigating the highways armed only with a map – no smartphone or GPS. I only got lost once in Sacramento. Planning and coordinating with people to arrange a place to stay can take time, but it’s definitely worth the hassle when you get there! Thanks to everyone who let me stay with them!