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Busker takes performance to the people for the Allentown Fall Festival

David Adamczyk

Street Music

Like multitudes of other people, David Adamczyk has seen the online video of the internationally prominent classical violinist Joshua Bell playing for passengers during an ill-fated 2007 foray into a Washington, D.C. Metro stop. He attracted little interest or attention. Adamczyk thinks he knows why: “His technique is bad.” He’s not faulting Bell’s famous musicianship, but his approach to public space performance. “He doesn’t know where to stand, how to relate [to the people passing by].”

Adamczyk isn’t just an ordinary grump; he has credentials to critique Bell’s efforts. He’s not only a classically trained violinist himself and a graduate of the Manhattan School of Music in New York; despite his youth he’s a veteran busker or street performer, and recently, a promoter of public-space performance in Buffalo. This summer he coordinated the Infringement Festival’s outdoor performances, and this Saturday afternoon, during the Allentown Association’s Fall Festival, on a block of Franklin Street north of Allen Street, he’s supervising street musicians’ appearances. He’s also arranged for the children’s performers on the porch of the Wilcox Mansion on Delaware Avenue for the festival’s family-friendly program that afternoon.

Adamczyk has been a busker since he was a student in New York. Back in Western New York after college, the Cheektowaga native set about scoping out the possibilities and requirements for street performance in Buffalo. (Busking also includes playing in bars for tips, something Adamczyk has done.) Equipped with a city license, he began to hone his act, compiling and refining a playlist that would work in often distracting, sometimes inhospitable settings. (License or no, he’s been hassled, once, for instance, being told to move on by a guard on Main near Court Street downtown, despite the obvious public nature of the site. He’s also been evicted from the Allentown Village Society’s Allentown Art Festival, which enforces a no-performance rule. The Goo Goo Dolls’ Robby Takac had similar problems, which resulted in his annual Music is Art event relocating to its current Albright Knox/Delaware Park site.)

There certainly was a profit motive behind Adamczyk’s venture into busking. People leave cash in his violin case, sometimes a lot. But his interest has broader and deeper dimensions, aesthetically and ethically, with a democratic and liberational bent. Originally, he says, “I didn’t anticipate the human element, the response of people that they were getting something real... They’re walking between A and B, and there I am.” The sense of connection with these impromptu audiences is important to him, he says. It’s a temporary reciprocal circuit that’s established when he plays. He tries to gauge people’s reactions and alter his repertoire accordingly. His playing ranges from Romantic Era violin classics to Klezmer tunes (Jewish folk music). “They’re unfamiliar with the music, but they respond to it,” he says. One popular favorite for New Orleans listeners has been the old blues tune, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Last year Adamczyk went on a personal tour of cities in several southern states to play and observe how buskers got along there. In New Orleans, Asheville, NC and Nashville, he says he found more hospitable environments than Buffalo’s: “There’s a culture of street performance there.” In the Big Easy, he remembers, “the best times to play were when the Saints lost a game” because then people weren’t in a mood for the brass bands that were all over downtown.

It’s importantly because of his experiences that he wants to help establish “more creative, safe spaces” for performances, “where it won’t be looked on as a nuisance.” Music, drama, poetry, he thinks, “bring a scene.” This is why he’s so appreciative of the Allentown Association’s assistance, particularly from president Jonathan White, now and during the Infringement Festival. “This makes a different kind of precedent. I like that it’s part of an already scheduled event. It’s very generous of the Association to help. It’s great of them to believe enough in the local creative community to let this happen.”

For his part, White says the Association should foster the idea that “the arts are a living part” of daily existence. It’s important, he says, “to give artists the opportunity to perform.”

The Fall Festival will include the street musicians on the block of Franklin, the family program at the Theodore Roosevelt site that also features a petting zoo with fourteen animals and 200 pumpkins that children can paint and take home. On Allen at North Pearl there’ll be a covered stage with musicians on it until 9 PM, and further west on Allen, a number of vendor’s stands. All of this, White emphasizes, is free.

Saturday will be a very busy day for Adamczyk. In the evening he’ll be at Pausa on Wadsworth Street with Shubbaluliuma, a three-man group that plays “recompositions of Béla Bartók duos,” interwoven with Eastern European folk airs. “It’s a Bartók cover band, sort of,” he says, a fleeting smile slightly altering his features.

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