Thursday, August 18, 2011

2011 Halifax International Busker Festival, Part 1: August 4-14, 2011

For the 25th year in a row, the annual Halifax International Busker Festival took over the Waterfront from August 4-14 and entertained locals and tourists alike with 11 days of comedy, magic, dancing, and fire (that's right, fire!)

Last year, due to lack of funds and time, I had a limited review of the Festival. However this time around, prepare yourself EP Readers, for the most picture-filled, EP-filled, busker-filled funstravaganza I've posted on EP Dave's Terra Nova yet. How is this possible, you ask? Great question! This year I signed up as a volunteer for the 11-day Halifax International Busker Festival, and volunteered for 14 shifts. I took over 600 pictures. I've posted the best here in this special two-part series. Consequently, I'm confident to say you will not find a more thorough review-in-pictures of this magnificent event anywhere else on the Internet.

(Are you ready for some busking? You'd better be! Thomas didn't fly all the way from Sweden to Thailand, to meet up with two pretty ladies on a beach, who invited him to Australia to join an elite fire-twirling team that sometimes graces Halifax with its presence, just so that you could not be entertained.)

At 25 years old, the Halifax International Busker Festival is the oldest street performance festival in Canada. It's quite an honour to be invited to perform in it, and quite a bigger privilege to be able to watch it, since the Nova Scotia provincial government seems to think it is more important to fund massive, money-losing outdoor concerts than it is to support a funny, entertaining, economy-boosting, and often inspirational festival such as this one, and consequently this years festival almost didn't happen. In fact, Flame Oz, one of the performers, publicly shamed the Nova Scotia provincial government during one of its performances for this inexcusable display of poor judgement.

This year saw 30 performers from 4 different continents, including the countries of Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, The Netherlands, Ireland, England, the United States and Canada. Rather than just talk about them though, I'll show you a small sample of photos so you'll know what you missed, and in part-2 I'll post even more photos of my top-three favourite acts.

Definitely deserving honourable mention, is one of the funniest mime acts you'll ever see, Fraser Hooper from England. Unfortunately for Fraser, his act's entertainment level depends largely upon the sense of humour of the audience and more importantly the sense of humour of the children he gets involved in the show. This can be very hit or miss, but when it's on it's one of the funniest shows. In the above photo, you can see Fraser setting up a tug-of-war match between four adults and what looks like a five year-old boy.

The best part of the show is when Fraser has a boxing match between himself and a member of the audience, complete with sound effects. Again, the humour here is really dependent upon how well his "volunteers" can perform.

Sometimes when he gets hit in the face too many times, Fraser gets disoriented and ends up hitting the ring post/corner man instead. (Unfortunately, my camera didn't auto-focus quick enough for this shot.)

Another exciting group was the martial arts/stunts demonstration crew Team2X, out of Scarborough (Toronto). One of the members of this team was even part of the the stunt team for the film Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World.

During their show, one of the members messed up and had to be "punished." Check out the "lift" he received from Carl's spinning back kick. Needless to say, this kick was not pulled. You might also enjoy the reaction of the woman in the front row, on the right.

By far the best performer at self-promotion was Victor Rubilar. As one of the other performers joked, "if you want to know how awesome Victor is, just ask him. He'll tell you all about it." All kidding aside, this unbelievable football (soccer ball) juggler from Argentina, currently living in Sweden, had one of the more impressive skill-based shows, and was definitely a hit with all the ladies.

As well as being the recipient of this year's Fan Choice Award (apparently two years ago he lost by one vote), Victor holds four Guiness World Records. These include "most consecutive rolls of a football across the head from temple to temple," "the longest time to spin a football on the forehead," "the longest distance travelled whilst balancing a football on the forehead," and "most footballs juggled (5, as you can see in the picture above)."

If you can't juggle five footballs at once, you can always have members of the audience try and play a game of water balloon tennis with giant raquets - the aim of which being to get a water balloon into the red colander helmet on Aiden Orange's head. For this trick to be successful, there is a certain level of skill needed by both the members of the audience to bounce the water balloon from one raquet to the other, and then high enough into the air without breaking it, as well skill on Aiden's part to be able to position himself in such a position as to be able to "catch" the water balloon in the helmet. I was impressed that eventually, within the ten balloon margin for error, the team of "volunteers" and Aiden were always able to "successfully" complete this stunt. (Aiden always seemed to get wet at the end though.)

Holding a degree in Astro-physics from the University of Toronto, Aiden now makes his parents proud by travelling around the world balancing an electric lawnmower on his chin, while members of the audience throw heads of lettuce into the spinning blades. This was my least favourite stunt of the entire festival because I always had to clean up the salad that was left over on the stage after every show.

And then there was Peter Rabbit. Actually, I'm not sure how to classify Peter, but he's always a fan favourite, and has been invited to perform at the Festival six times so far. I heard he has also won the Fan Choice Award twice in the past. For Peter's performances, he sets up his "expensive equipment" and then proceeds to energetically drum on the buckets for about half-an-hour. At the Historic Properties stage here, Peter would have a special finale in which he would go around the audience and drum on absolutely everything in sight, including the buildings of this National Historic Property behind him, and the strollers of the babies in the audience, and even the bottoms of people's shoes. Pay special attention to the "no hands" drumming in the photo.

Lest you think Peter is just some guy from Brooklyn who set up some dirty buckets (he broke all of his over the course of the festival and had to find a new one at the last minute for this show), check out this video of Peter performing at a University of Kansas basketball game.

An often overlooked aspect of the Halifax International Busker Festival is the vendors that line the Waterfront to sell people overpriced food ($5 for a piece of pizza?). By far one of the more interesting side vendors this year was this wax hands-making booth. To see an interesting video of how this is done click here (note: this is not my video, nor was it taken in Halifax, as the description will make clear.)

Of course, anywhere there are people, you will invariably find a Peruvian pipe flute band. This one came from Ecuador for the summer to play at various Atlantic Canadian locations and sell their CDs. In spite of my fear of an impending giant guinea pig invasion (yes, it's a South Park reference), I still have to admit that this band was really really good, and that I'm still whistling their infectious melodies.

And now for something rather "out there". This is world class fire breather Pyromancer from Holland. His show was a bit eccentric, and I heard some people say it was too "weird" for them, but certain members of Flame Oz told me personally that he was one of the best in the world. (Which just goes to show you the average person rarely understands or recognizes the beauty and artistry around them.)

I'm particularly pleased with this night photo, and I'm certain you'll find it an impressive looking stunt, but to truly appreciate the mastery Pyromancer has over his craft, watch the video here (the backward walking firebreathing stunt creates a serious risk that the flame could travel backward down his throat and burn him badly, just so you know).

In conclusion, I was struck by two main things after volunteering at this festival. First, I was amazed at the level of performing talent in the street performer community, and second I was embarrassed by the unbelievable level of disrespect some people can show.

Without fail, and I watched over 50 shows, whenever one of the performers would start preparing the audience for his/their final act, no less than five people (and those were only the ones I caught) would try and sneak away from the show. It was always at this part in the show too, so it's not a coincidence.

Now, I can understand not having enough money to pay every performer, but again this is no excuse since every single performer pleaded with the crowd to, at the very least, just come up to them and say "thanks" if they couldn't afford to put in even $1. Famous Seamus from the Lords of Strut (more on them in part-two) noticed this disturbing trend as well. As part of his show he would routinely point out these embarrassing people and announce over the loud speaker "if you listen carefully you can hear the squeaking of the tight-asses as they try and walk away."

Additionally, the garbage was quite an issue. I spent most of my time as a volunteer picking up garbage. (If I never see another BeaverTails wrapper ever again it will be too soon.) While I was cleaning up one of the stages after the last performance of the festival, a family from Belgium stopped me to express their horror at how disrespectful Canadians are. The idea of seeing this much litter on the streets of Belgium after a street performance was incomprehensible to them (which leads me to believe it's a problem with Canadians). We had no less than six garbage cans located around the relatively small stage area, yet I was able to pick up two garbage bags full of litter after everyone had left. It was truly disgusting, but I know it's not just a problem with Halifax. All Canadians, consider yourself EP Shamed. Get your acts together and stop embarrassing us internationally.

Now that that unfortunate, but necessary business is out of the way, I can continue with part-two.


  1. That shot in the dark is incredible

  2. Amazing post Dave... I can't wait to attend some performances when I am home next year.

    Regarding the garbage situation, I can only say that compared to the Brit's, Canadians seem to be much cleaner. It is depressing though that any human being thinks its alright to throw their trash on the ground. PERIOD.

  3. Thank you, Matt. And thank you, Jody. I agree with you 100%. Trash goes in the trash can (like the six we provided), not on the ground.