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Lethbridge buskers play to their own beat

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Busker Bryan Bradfield enjoys summer in Lethbridge. Photo By Richard Amery
The streets of Lethbridge are alive with the sounds of buskers  during the summer. Busking equals freedom according to The Busker’s Association of Lethbridge spokesman Bryan Bradfield.
“We’re very democratic in how we deal with each other,” said Bradfield, adding the “organized ” Busker’s Association of Lethbridge is anomaly in Canada — most buskers just set up and play anywhere, however the 12 members of the Lethbridge Buskers Association meet monthly at the Allied Arts Council office (318 7th street south) to discuss locations and strategies and, of course, to socialize.
 In addition to playing on street corners, parks, outside of coffee shops and anywhere people congregate, the Association is also associated with the Downtown Business Revitalization Zone which means the buskers can participate in the Sounds of Downtown initiative throughout July and August.
“We’ve always been about the performance. This was a fresh and different approach to to music,” Bradfield continued, who has been a member since the Association formed five years ago.
“What it involves is a completely different awareness of the performer/audience relationship because the audience always becomes part of the show,” he continued adding all members must undergo an informal audition process to ensure performers have at least an hour of completely different, non-repeated material as well as to ensure their shows remain family-friendly.
“But a big part of it is forging our own path,” he said.
 
The Association’s purposes are to recognize buskers as street and public players; to provide a voice for buskers in public affairs; to promote busking as an art form in the Lethbridge region; to be self managing; to observe all laws, bylaws and regulation; to establish a membership list and fee (five dollars a season) but more importantly to be self managing as to the conduct and competence of its members.
“I like the freedom of it. I like the ideals we’re representing,” said busker Jo-Ann Leger, equating busking to the wandering minstrels of yore.
Busker Gordon Leigh. Photo by Richard Amery
“You get the opportunity to express yourself,” she said.
Members of the Buskers Association receive a certificate identifying them as such which they can display on their instrument cases, for it is not just guitar players who perform as others, like Gordon Leigh, play the cornet.
“ The fact that we’re organized is unusual for buskers,” Bradfield said.
“I like talking  to the people,” added busker Leon Barr, a mainstay at Lethbridge Folk Club events who moved to Lethbridge from Saskatchewan two years ago and joined the Association.
“You meet a lot of interesting people. I’m used to playing farmer’s markets where you’re getting 5,000 people. Here you’re not going to get those numbers, but you get just as much enthusiasm.”
While the buskers are free to perform anywhere, as long as their shows are family friendly, and they keep out of the way of doors to businesses doors, they all have their favourite spots.
Bradfield and Leger enjoy playing Henderson Lake while Barr likes it in front of Esquires. Near the Southern Alberta Art Gallery and in front of the Red Dog are other popular spots.
“I’m in my 80s, it gives me something to do,” chuckled Clark Figenshau who has been involved with the Association for five years.
—Richard Amery, L.A. Beat editor
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