New York is a city full of changing trends, but there are a few things that will never go out of style: a bacon-egg-n’-cheese, making fun of New Jersey, and buskers. Throughout New York’s history, buskers have long fought to be heard and, later this month, buskers from all over the city will get that chance at the NYC BuskerBall, which takes place this year on April 23rd at a DIY space called Unit J.

New York’s BuskerBall was started by Theo Eastwind, a former busker who is now a real estate agent. Eastwind’s first was in January of 2013, launched in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Eastwind says he and other buskers in the scene saw firsthand the damage Sandy did to the community, and decided to put on a benefit concert with some of the buskers he knew around the city. They raised a total of $10,000 and the proceeds went to the Red Cross. “There were a lot of people who were really touched by that,” Eastwind said. “People loved the idea of all these buskers coming together and having a party.” And so, NYC BuskerBall was born.

At this year’s BuskerBall, a group of buskers will battle it out for a prize of $500. Each of these performers is unique in their own way – have you ever heard a busker play musical saw or an African Kora? You will at this year’s BuskerBall. There will also be two magicians performing, an NYC BuskerBall first. 

“It’s the antithesis to algorithm-served content on the internet,” Eastwind said, “Directly to the people; unexpected, spontaneous.” 

Singer and ukuleleist Rachel Haymer says she started busking five years ago because she was “working as a musician but couldn’t play the things [she] wanted to.” Busking “was a chance to experience total artistic freedom,” she says. Claudi, who also sings for a band called the Pinc Louds, said they started busking when they moved from Puerto Rico to New York to pay the rent, and from there, “it became an obsession.” 

“Buskers are weird birds – when you gather a whole bunch of them together, it makes for a bizarre and colorful night,” says singer-songwriter – and competing busker – Robert Leslie.(image taken by Emmanuel Rosario)

“I guess the event is also a sort of rallying point for free speech activism – the city is always trying to tighten the restrictions on public performances, it takes work to keep things free,” singer-songwriter Robert Leslie adds. This element of free speech is a recurring theme in at NYC BuskerBall as well. Says Eastwind: “As long as you see a busker, you know you’re living in a free country.”

“Buskers are there for you,” Eastwind adds, promising that its’ going to remain an event unlike any other – or, as Leslie puts it: “Buskers are weird birds – when you gather a whole bunch of them together, it makes for a bizarre and colorful night.” 

NYC BuskerBall takes place April 23rd at Unit J, at 338 Moffat Street. A full list of performers, can be found on NYC BuskerBall’s website. The organization also runs a GoFundMe

Top image of Rachel Haymer from her Instagram page.

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