The return of busking comes with more appreciation for street musicians

K'Von Jackson, Valentina Pucarelli, and Shane Verkest

By Valentina Pucarelli, Photojournalist

Ian Walsh, a guitarist with the band Chicago Traffic Jam, said they were out of commission for about a month in the beginning of the pandemic, so they began busking — the term used for the act of performing in public spaces for gratuities — in different neighborhoods around the city.

Chicago Traffic Jam is usually found performing downtown on Michigan Avenue, but Preyas Roy, marimba player in the band, said they stopped busking downtown at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, as not many people were around to listen.

Eric Kunner, drummer in Chicago Traffic Jam, said when they transitioned to busking in neighborhoods around the city, people would bring out chairs, eat sandwiches and hang out because they were stuck at home with no outside entertainment or nightlife.

“It was kind of a cool way to meet some of the people that have seen us for years and have conversations with them,” Kunner said. “I think they’re excited to see us.”

Kunner said people would come up to them crying as they were able to provide some normalcy during a stressful time.

“It’s a moment in time where people can come together and they don’t have to worry about anything else, ” Kunner said.

Chicago Traffic Jam is back performing downtown because it is an easier commute for all members of the band.

COVID-19 gave some musicians the opportunity to start new bands and projects.

Oracle Blu was created during the pandemic and is composed of Columbia Music Department students — senior Nicholas Argueta and junior Joe Klaff, as well as Argueta’s lifelong friend Anthony Cresav.

According to Argueta, they have played together for about a year and a half, and got their busking license to play around the city a few months ago.

“Being a pandemic band, it kind of helped us rather than hurt,” Klaff, Oracle Blu’s drummer said. “It just gave us the opportunity to perfect our sets and all the songs we do, become tighter as a group, take time to explore other promotional opportunities for ourselves moving forward.”

In July 2021, Oracle Blu began playing every Sunday in Logan Square at the Logan Square Farmer’s Market. Klaff said they received a positive reaction.

“I would say that people are definitely itching to do stuff coming out of COVID, everyone wants to get out,” Klaff said.

Andrew David, a Columbia alum who majored in music, said when the pandemic hit, street performing started to have a deeper meaning for him.

“The pandemic was one of the most meaningful times where my eyes were open to just how important and powerful music and sharing your gift is, ” David said.

David began performing in the downtown streets in 2017 after three years of singing in the subway. He said one of the things he enjoys the most about it is the spontaneity.

“The moments that you have people come up to you and say, ‘That’s exactly what I needed’ or ‘You just don’t know how you affected my day,’ is so rewarding as a performer,” David said.