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Buskerfest brings music to the streets of Downtown

The Buskerfest Street Performance festival is on Friday, Dec. 9 from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. in Downtown Miami. More information here.

When Justin Trieger moved from New York to Miami eight years ago, he was struck by the stillness of the urban core. While walking down the streets of Downtown Miami he could hear a few feet shuffling, the honking of car horns, and little else. The silence at the metros felt utterly alien.

“The metromover has a lot of correlation to New York City’s subways,” Trieger said. The difference was, at New York’s subway stations, musicians, artists, and street performers filled the streets and alleyways with aural art. “Ultimately, who doesn’t like hearing music instead of traffic? It’s a way to focus your energy and … creates a lively atmosphere.”

Trieger, who’s the technical director for distance education and new media initiatives at the New World Symphony, serves as the board vice president of Buskerfest Miami, a non-profit organization that conducts an annual street performance festival and organizes performances year round with civic and community organizations around Miami.

Along with four other team members, he brainstormed the idea for Buskerfest two years ago at a Whereby.Us-led community meeting (also the birthplace of The New Tropic). The original goal was to “put local artists on street corners as a way to make Downtown better after dark.” The group sought to artistically activate the streets and Metromover stations in Downtown Miami with live performances by local artists and local music.

Busking, or the act of entertaining in a public space, spans a long history stretching back from “medieval French troubadours to the modern Mexican mariachi,” according to Nick Broad, the founder of The Busking Project, an international organization working to support street performers all around the world.  “We’ve found that since we’ve been doing Buskerfest, people come up to us and say, ‘Oh this reminds me of being in New York, or Paris, or fill in the blank.’ It’s something that people, once they see, they recognize and enjoy,” Trieger added.  

As American Urbanist William H. Whyte wrote in his book City: Rediscovering the Center, “When people form up around an entertainer — it happens very quickly, in a minute or so — they look much like children who have come upon a treat.” In this way, a street performance creates a shared experience among strangers, a phenomenon Whyte describes as triangulation.

“This is the process by which some external stimulus provides a linkage between people and prompts strangers to talk to each other as if they were not,” he writes.  These spontaneous, positive interactions bring “joy and an opportunity to interact with other humans you might not have before,” Trieger added.

Alongside the core leadership team, which includes dancer Amy Cozette San Pedro, who serves as the board treasurer, the group hopes to also enliven Miami’s artistic environment by creating an “interesting way to give locals an opportunity to perform,” San Pedro said. “This helps keep talent at home and helps Miami develop into the city that we would like it to be.”

In 2013, its first year, the festival proved a resounding success, drawing people from all around Miami-Dade to experience Downtown as an artistic meeting place. Last year, the group was awarded a $10,000 grant as a winner of the Knight Arts Challenge, enabling them to continue the project. The festival even encouraged locals to use the metromover at its busiest hours, replacing the dull hum of the rails with the soundtrack of live music at select stops. Instead of feeling hurried, rushed, and isolated, riders felt inspired.

Now in its third year, on Friday Dec. 11, Buskerfest Miami will be taking over Downtown, bringing music to select street corners and metromover stops. More than 40 local artists will be participating, including musicians, acrobats, comedians, and dancers. We’ll be there, too. The New Tropic is  hosting a mid-day Downtown Recess at Bayfront Park, where the festival will convene at 8 p.m. for a performance at the Tina Hills Pavillion.

Christopher Sopher, CEO of the The New Tropic, is on the Buskerfest leadership team. He was not involved in the planning or production of this story.