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Daniel Craig 08-12-10 12:03 PM

A Tale of Two Festivals: Part One- Windsor
A Tale of Two Festivals: Windsor and Red Deer. Part One.

Two weekends this July I had the opportunity to attend the Windsor Buskers Festival and Red Deer's Street Performer Festival, called "Centrefest". If you're feeling like a nice long read, please, by all means, settle in, get a nice cup of coffee and hear this saga of both joy and woe.

Here we go.

A little backstory for the uninformed- Windsor was a once proud busking festival, run up and down the waterfront by Ken Brandes, well attended and well recieved by audiences all over the region. In 2007 the festival missed a year and ownership was passed to someone else, but the festival re-emerged in 2008 and was back on track.

In 2009, I had the opportunity to attend along with Kate Mior, Rob Firenix, Trulee Odd, the Phantastyks, Lindsay Benner, World Famous Brett, Dream State Circus, and Byron Bertram. Brian Wilson had been hired as the performer liason and was taking very good care of us. There were a few hiccups, but because Brian was there to intercept most of the miscommunication and address it on our behalf so we were shielded from most of the disorganization that would soon become evident.

Shows that year were small, but there were a couple nights of the four day festival that made it worthwhile. Byron, the Phantastyks and I had an excellent evening of shows in which we all made some reasonable coin. We had a good group- There was only a little rain, we kept each other's spirits high and felt reasonably good at the end of the day.

The festival ends, and I am pleased to hear that I was the recipient of the people's choice award. Woo hoo- A prize of a few hundred extra dollars is promised and I fly home feeling alright.

Fast forward to 2010.

I am asked to return having won the award. I accept, knowing full well that some of the shows are adequate but there are a couple good ones over the weekend that make it worth it. Kimberly is coming and we are doing our duo show as well, and I figure things wouldn't change that much and that they would have learned from last years mistakes. Brian Wilson isn't working there anymore, which worries me slightly.

I like to give the benefit of the doubt. In this case, it was a mistake.

The arrival: The plane lands in Windsor, we de-board and shuffle in to the airport. A man is standing there, bearing a sign with my name and a festival t-shirt. I flag him down and say hello, and as we wait for the luggage, one of the first things he says is:

"Glad you are here, crowds have been really sparse."

Consider that red flag number one. We collect our luggage and load into his car, driving toward the festival site. I make some conversation, just trying to be a little friendly.

"So, are you staff for the festival? Or a volunteer?" I inquire.

"Well, I was staff until three days ago. Now I'm a volunteer. The festival fired me because they ran out of money." He replies, heaving a sigh at the end.

Consider that red flag number two. It should be noted that in 2009, the Quality Suites were a sponsor of the festival and as a result we actually recieved quite nice hotel suites that were a five minute walk to the pitch. I elect to ask another question hoping that the suites are still ours.

"So, the Quality Hotel still providing rooms for the festival?" I ask, hoping that something has been maintained from the year prior.

"Nope. You'll be at University Place. They're like dorms. About three miles away." he says. I know immediately this is not always a deal-breaker. Kingston and Waterloo have the dorm thing going on, and it's actually pretty good. There is a communal room at those festivals and the performers are all tgrouped, as many of us can attest to, when we take over a floor and get everyone together it's actually quite enjoyable.

"Oh, okay;" I respond, noting the distance. Three miles away. "Will there be a shuttle service provided?" I continue.

"Nope. The festival wants you to use the city bus to take your stuff in."

Red flag three.

"Can we drop our stuff off at the green room before we go to the dorms then?" I ask.

"Of course!"

We get to the "green room". It's an old bar, currently unused. The floor and carpet is unwashed, soaked, sticky with the spilt drinks of many nights past. It smells like sweat and cheap bourbon. We put our stuff up on the small stage of the bar, attempting to not let any material that might absorb liquid touch the floor.

The washrooms are unspeakable. These are supposed to be our "changerooms", without being too graphic, one toilet had looked like it had been used for weeks and nary flushed once. Piled high, so to speak. The smell was repulsive, lingering, gag-inducing.

Then, a volunteer chastises us for missing our first show, which apparently was when we were on a plane. I show him a printed letter from the festival producer (who also later chastised us about missing the show) saying we didn't start until Thursday (tomorrow). Things are off to a great start.

We get to the university dorm, and we check in. The process takes over half an hour. Apparently they have booked Kimberly and I in two seperate rooms on seperate floors. We told them from the beginning that we were sharing a room, and apparently it was never communicated to the hotel. When we asked them to give us a room with a larger bed, we were told the best we could get was to have another mattress dragged in so that I could sleep on the floor beside her whilst she slept on the bed.

We decided to squeeze onto the single bed in our room.

Oh yes, our room. It didn't even have dorm room furniture- It looked like someone's grandma had died and left a mish-mash of old tables, desks, dressers and beds to be jammed into the space. We look at the contract for our accommodations and quickly learn that the following things cost money.

ELECTRICITY. There is a warning saying "If you use too much electricity you will be charged."

The room is shabby, and the bed has that plastic sheet underneath it to protect the mattress from all sorts of bodily fluids. It's like lying on a piece of aluminum foil. We don't unpack, and head down to the desk to figure out our options for getting around. Electing to rent bicycles, we cycle the three miles back to the pitch.

Guy Collins is performing, one of five acts hired this year. His crowd numbers in the high teens. The pitch is on one-half block of closed street, there is no signage and no indication as to what is happening. Thirty metal folding chairs circle Guy Collins, about a third of them vacant. Also there is Liqueur Flambe from Australia, and a local magician named Wayne Teller, both watching. Guy finishes his show and pours his hat into one hand.

Liqueur Flambe is there because they saw pictures of the festival on the Windsor Buskers Festival website and were totally misled. The pictures of the festival on the website are from years back, and you see a waterfront filled with people. You see Julio commanding his breakdancers, Checkerboard Guy scooting excitedly, helmet flailing in the wind. You see Sylvain biking vertically, big goofy grin on his face. As a kicker, you see the ACROMANIACS STILL PERFORMING. Liqueur Flambe came from Australia based on this, and it was a lie. That festival, the one that was once down on the waterfront is no more. It is a broken husk of what it used to be.

We talk and we also find out the festival has been extended to ten days, like Halifax. The only problem is there are nowhere near enough people to support it even for just a weekend. We are informed by Liqueur Flambe that the festival is being kind of shady in paying them, wanting to use PayPal instead of certified cheque or cash. Guy informs us the schedule changes daily and also recounts how when it rained they were forced to perform in a shopping mall (also for no one), and were moved to the "rain pitch" which (and hopefully Guy posts a picture of it) was a broken down, abandoned old bus station inhabited by mostly homeless people. To quote him:

"It really reeked of piss!"

We also find out that the producer also works for the Windsor Fringe, and is attempting to use the buskers to increase foot traffic for Windsor's tiny Fringe Festival. It's not working. After seeing this debacle unfold the idea that staying here might not be the best bet starts to seep in. We bike back to the dorms and I pass the producer on the way back. I wave at her, she waves back but she doesn't put down her phone. No biggie. We get back to the dorm room and I get right to work. I whip out the laptop and pen this to the producer.

"Hello there-

I was hoping to chat with you this evening but you were on the telephone and we were trying to bike home quickly in case it rained. In any case, I feel it necessary to send you an email regarding a few things that have come up and, naturally, in a candid manner.

I understand and respect that as a festival coordinator you have an immeasurable amount of things on your plate. However, last year the buskers were let down by the administration. Messages and schedules were lost, details were unclear, and from what they told me, Sophie and Jacob made an effort to help create what we all hoped would become the world class festival it once was, and could be again.

It seems that the buskers have once again fallen by the wayside as an afterthought. Crowds and communication are non-existant, and the schedule nebulously changes from day to day. We must adapt to these changes when they occur but it should be the exception and not the rule to do so. The buskers are being used to promote the Fringe Festival and this is sabotaging the busking by attempting to jam it into a space that doesn't aptly accommodate it- even Charles Clark square eventually filled out nearly every evening last year.

I understand the desire to direct foot traffic downtown and to the Fringe site, but this is coming at the expense of our livelihood. We all spent a good deal on getting to Windsor to participate but this has gotten to a point where something needs to be done. As you are well aware, good buskers take their art very seriously in an effort to display a quality product (the show) and therefore earn a quality amount in the hat.

We left a pitch at home where, based on what we saw today and heard regarding the past week, we could have made more money and performed for significantly larger crowds by staying there. As a result, we are seriously considering forfeiting our travel and perdiem monies and returning to continue working there- and we may do so by Thursday. The monies that we elect to forfeit could perhaps be divided amongst the performers who have stayed throughout the entire festival, or perhaps reallocated into another part of the festival in which a lack of funding has caused it to suffer.

We are extremely professional, but we also cannot forget that our livelihoods, our bills, our mortgages, and our obligations are paid for by our skills that we have worked long and hard to attain, and the current chance of that criteria being met here is rapidly diminishing. Had we known that the conditions would be such as they are, we would have respectfully declined the offer to return and continued to work at home.

It is with great regret that I bring this to you, but there are fundamentally flawed aspects of how the festival is being run that have not changed since 2009, and my hopes that they would be recognized and addressed by this summer have not been met. It feels as if we have been left to "deal with the cards we are given", so to speak, and forage and figure things out on our own.

I do not like to be the bearer of bad news, but I know that being able to share my concerns candidly, respectfully and openly with you will at least open the ebb and flow of communication that should exist.

Respectfully yours-
Daniel Craig"

I get a reply which says "I'd like to talk to you about this in person. Meet me before your 4:00 PM show tomorrow. And please call me." amongst a few other things. The rain doesn't come so we bike back down to the festival to spend the rest of the evening with Guy Collins and the Liqueur Flambe duo.

The night comes and goes, and the next day I try to call the producer several times but they all go to voicemail. So, I show up at the "Green Room" at 3:45. No sign of the producer. I check the schedule, and I don't even have a 4:00 PM show that day. Figures. Four o'clock passes us, and no one is there so we head back out to the pitch and watch Liqueur Flambe split their hat. A truck from a local business comes by and unloads about forty cardboard boxes and bags of trash right beside the pitch. The producer is still nowhere to be found. The volunteers and technical staff all support our decision to make way. I call Air Canada, change our flights home to that evening and pre-order a beer.

No one from the festival comes out and says anything to us even to ask us if we are leaving. I see slight envy in Guy Collins eyes and we load our things into the taxi and go to the airport.

We later find out that after we left, so did everyone else except for the local magician. I picture a broken man dealing cards onto his close-up table, weeping. Every single out of town act left the festival before it was done. Amazing.

Days later, we get an email from the producer with the subject line:

"If you build it they will come, but only for the patient and perservering."

An excerpt of the email reads:

"Tonight we have taken video of crowds of nearly just over 600 people at the corner of University and Ouellette watching one busker work.

Since we actually took video and counted last year's crowds, this exceeds last year's highest crowd count of 537.spamspam

We only wish these crowds had been there for you. It would have taken waiting through the rain on Friday night and for a good part of today. To have great crowds against a breath taking sunset and great weather. It is a regional busker from Michigan who is helping us out at the last minute, and our own local busker who are handling these crowds. And they are succeeding. Video footage to follow..."

It would have taken waiting nine days to do one day of shows for 600 people? That's bullshit, and as we all know, six hundred people doesn't make a festival. The last lines "...and they are succeeding. Video footage to follow..." leave a particularly sour taste in my mouth. If you are wondering, no, we didn't violate contract because we never got one and no, we didn't get paid, nor would we have accepted it if we had.

So: The short of it is- NEVER, EVER GO TO WINDSOR, unless you like hats in the mid-teens, crowds of a couple dozen (up until the last day apparently) and a festival that believes you should be happy for the opportunity to work, no matter the condition. There was even more, but that should sum it up for now... Amazing.

WayneMagic 08-13-10 10:14 PM

Well Dan, you made the right decision. I was the last Magician standing, and I so looked forward to working along side you, and all the other acts that you mentioned, raising my Show to another level, and seeing if I could perform with the big boys and gals. I too had visions of Busker Festivals of Windsor past, and seeing myself wowing, the large cheering audience, and Hats for a job well done.

Then it started, my 1st show, Friday at 6pm, with not much signs of a crowd, I was asked by the Producer to do my show in the Bar/Eatery, since she had paid for food and a drink for a little Festival send off, some Entertainment would be nice, if I didn't mind? At that point I knew that she still doesn't have a clue about what Busking is all about and that a per diem doesn't allow her to ask for such ridicules things. When I said that I couldn't, she then said, "looks like you will have a good crowd anyway". Whatever....

I did get the biggest crowd and hat the last show on a very Hot Saturday night, and that gave me high hopes for the rest of the Festival. hahahha

It was Great working beside Guy Collins and liqueur Flambe, and getting to talk shop and ask some questions. I was so hoping to hang out with the others that were supposed to show up, but you explained about that. So I look forward to working beside you and the others for the 1st time or again at some future pitch, because this is what I want to do.

As for Windsor,....well see who is running the show and what they have to offer, because I for one, want to see my home city back to its former glory.

WayneMagic 08-13-10 10:34 PM

Windsor, also
O yeah, I don't ever remember performing to a crowd of 600, so when you get the video, please pass it along so I can see if i was there. LOL

nick nickolas 08-15-10 10:50 AM

Bring back Ken Brandes, that's what I say,,,
He was so sharp he had an ATM on the site filled with only $5 notes !!


ALAKAZAM 08-15-10 11:29 AM

Ken was one of the best street fest producers ever! Winsdor buskerfest, from what i hear is a stink hole now.

Daniel Craig 08-15-10 12:09 PM

stink hole would be putting it kindly, al.

see you in waterloo..!

martin ewen 08-16-10 07:08 PM

enjoyed long well written read...,would read again...

Guy 08-17-10 12:04 PM

I have posted the pictures on this site! They were taken on the rainy day pitch, which was a broken down Greyhound station opposite a strip joint, fantastic!
The main pitch wasn't really much better. I have nothing nice to say about the festival organisers! Just pointless. Unless the Buskers festival is taken over by someone else who is in no way connected with the "Fringe" then forget it.

jesus 08-18-10 01:05 PM

Ah Dan you're a wuss! I can't believe you bailed.
That all sounds stellar compared to that festival we did across the river in Detroit.
Was Mr Bill involved?

gsidhe 08-19-10 03:08 PM

Hi all!
We were the "Regional" buskers brought in last minute that the coordinator mentioned (Not all that regional really...We work from Ottawa to St. Louis Missouri!) This festival just happens to be close to home.We honestly did not know we were "scab" laborers when we took the gig. If we had known then what we do now- We would not have taken it.
Below is my review of the festival that I posted on another busking forum. Very sad to find out ours was not a unique experience.
And one other side note- There was never a 600 person crowd. I would be amazed that there was ever more than 100.

Wow...I mean...Wow.
We did this festival for the first time in 2008. It was our first real experience in a competitive busking environment. We had worked plenty of street shows, but never in a highly charged professional busking environment. That was a fun time- We met Peter Snow, got some good TV coverage, good friendly crowds and some pretty decent hats. We knew from the other performers that it was far from the larger busking fests they were used to (200 to 500 person crowds as opposed to 5-700), but compared to the street work in Michigan, it was pretty cool.
Thursday I got an e-mail from XXXX (Name concealed out of courtesy), the coordinator for this years festival. She had an opening in the schedule for this weekend and wanted to know if we would be interested in coming out. We had just finished working the Street Series in Holland MI that night and had a private gig Friday. We had the weekend off and were just going to do some street work anyways so figured that we would just do it in Windsor (Where they would already have a good crowd waiting for it) instead.
The car was already packed so we left Saturday morning. We hit the border at about 12:30 and managed to talk our way through the border (A few small snags- They don't know their own laws for crud!), get checked into the place they had put us up at, changed and hit the pitch by 3:30 pm. It was a different location from the previous years- Instead of the huge park/ice skating rink, it was a side street. We were told we were supposed to start at 4.
It was deserted. I swear there was a tumbleweed.
There was no one there. The "Street Closed" signs were there, but pulled off to the side. There were some signs for the fest, but no people, no staff, nothing.
I called XXXX. They had decided to start at 6 instead of 4. No signs anywhere saying that, no call to us to let us know, nothing. We decided to get some lunch while we waited.
We show up at the location (A side street filled with empty businesses and for rent signs) and now the street is blocked off, some chairs are set up in the blazing sun and there is a sound system. We set up for the show and get ready for the influx.
All six people that were actually on the street (Volunteers for the "festival") got a great show. Ok...Slight exaggeration, we started off with 6 and ended with about 20. They were pretty generous for the size crowd, but I could have done better on my home pitch.
Up next a magician friend (Wayne) of mine showed up to do his show as well as another performer friend Bill. We watched and then got to hang out with him between shows for the rest of the evening. It winds up that he was the only performer left that stuck out the entire festival. It used to be one intense weekend, now it was stretched out to 10 days. Of the initial 8 acts they had booked, only he was left since he was local. ALL of the other acts had bailed after the first weekend. XXXX had only told us that she had an opening. Not that ALL of the slots had opened. It wound up being us, Wayne and a karaoke singer in a mumu named Bev in the "All about Bev" show specializing in 70's easy listening.
I'll admit, after that first show things got a little better. We got the bar crowd walking by our alley and managed to pull in some 60-80 person crowds (According to XXXX these were the largest crowds pulled in for the entire weekend) working back to back with Wayne the magician. We could hold a crowd between our two shows but they would all leave during the Karaoke womans act and we would have to start from scratch again.
After our last show at 10:30 we worked out the schedule with XXXX for Sunday and went back to crash.
That was day one.
From our conversation with XXXX, we were supposed to start at 4 pm.
At 3:40 we start getting calls asking why we weren't there yet. Apparently, they had changed the schedule so we were to be on at 3:45 without telling us. We get there a little before 4 and now we have a grumpy crowd sitting in the chairs waiting for us. We do the show (Again, small but generous crowd) and then go to eat in the parking space behind our car. Karaoke woman goes on and the crowd wanders off.
As they wander by, they stop to ask us questions and complain.
"When are you guys going on again? That woman is terrible."
"We looked for the busker fest at the park where it usually is...We wandered around there for an hour!"
"The poster shows 7 or 8 acts...Where are they? Why aren't you on the poster?"
"Are you guys it? This is the whole thing? Just one stage area?"
"Why are they doing karaoke?"

We finished our other two shows and got the heck out of dodge.

Other issues-
We were given a place to leave our props that would be guarded by security (We were never told about the green room)
We came back to find out that the "Security" guy had been going through our props because he wanted to figure out what our fire powder was.
Same security guy creeped out Sylver by sexually harassing her when I wasn't right by her side.

Found out that one of the many reasons the other performers left was because they are sent to perform at locations where they would get no tips as "Goodwill" for the Fringe festival- To bring people down for the pay to watch theatre shows.

In short- If you get asked to perform at this festival and XXXX is in charge, don't do it. She funneled all of her funding into promoting the fringe and has no idea what she is doing outside of that. The busker fest is her lowest priority, unpromoted, disorganized and overall a bad bet.
The only positive thing I can really say is we didn't lose money. We covered our expenses plus a little. If it wasn't for being able to meet up with some good friends, it would have been a waste of time and effort.
We would have been better off grabbing a corner ourselves and working outside of the festival.
Hope this saves some of you the time and effort.
Gwyd of the Knotty Bits Sideshow

Daniel Craig 08-20-10 01:19 AM

What a capital-c clusterfuck. I'm sorry to hear that even in the last weekend the crowds wavered in the high double digits.

Guy, great pictures. They represent the festival well- as something that should be wholeheartedly avoided. Seeing you and meeting Nellie and Mare was the highlight of the trip.

Again- don't frackin' go to Windsor. Ever. What a dumpy festival.

StrictlyNikki 08-22-10 05:30 PM

Ah brilliant. I've just been working with Nellie and Mare at the Halifax busker fest and they'd told me this comic tradgedy tale over a beer or 2, this will make them laugh, I'll let them know about your post, I'm sure your pictures and version will make them chuckle. It sounds pretty much as they told it!

USA BREAK DANCERS 08-25-10 03:59 PM

Sorry to here about your bad experience in Windsor, on annother note congradulations on your Peoples choice win. Is that your first one?
"You see Julio commanding his breakdancers" What the hell is that all about, Daniel?

Scot Free 08-25-10 04:55 PM

How on earth did you win "Peoples choice" without any people Dan?

Daniel Craig 08-26-10 12:59 AM

Jeff- it was last year when there were a few people around... 2009 it wasn't so bad. It was workable, better than the street but not by much.

Julio- Totally just a fancy way of saying you're MCing them, no offense intended buddy.. Where you guys at nowadays anyways?

USA BREAK DANCERS 08-26-10 03:52 PM

leave the kid alone Daniel is totally capable of winning Peoples choice at any Busker festival, when were not there, LOL. We just got back from Edinburgh Dan, SLAMMED IT! We spent most of our summer in Europe this year, were back in NY now, just got back today...

sippy 09-02-10 09:06 PM

I understand where all you guys are coming from. Windsor was the city I started out in and have worked with Bill and Wayne on several festivals.

I'm sorry you guys had such terrible experiences in Windsor. The city is facing a lot of cultural support issues and that has to change. I did the fringe/busker fest the first year it was a joint event... and never again.

"xxxx" (as she is named) I will never work for again and I almost had to go to collections on her. That is fact! I would say more, but I don't think its a good idea to have it in writing online.

Hopefully, one day, someone competent will be in charge and the festival can become great again!

Lynneski 09-29-10 02:20 PM

How sad.

That is all.

gsidhe 10-25-10 12:30 PM

Quick update-
We still have not been paid for the work that we did despite messages from XXXX saying that the payment was on the way.
Just another nail in the coffin.

Edit: Update- She sent payment mere minutes after I posted this. Apparently she reads this forum! I finally feel like I can put the whole thing behind me!

gsidhe 02-15-11 01:20 PM

Just got a heads up from XXXX that everything posted here was shared with Windsor Buskerfest at a "conference of all of the busker festivals".
I can't even imagine how that conversation went.
Conference attendee "You do know that the performers you had in 2011 were unhappy with the fest, right?"
Windsor "Really? I have no idea why...I thought everything was fine when they all left..."

Any time that a performer has to pay to rent a towel, there is something amiss.

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