For most of my busking career, I have been primarily a solo performer playing my guitar, harmonica and singing, but over the years I have also had quite a few occasions to busk with other musicians be they non-busker friends or fellow buskers. Last year I posted a story in which I related some of those occasions. I also mentioned a few of the benefits of teaming up with someone else, the most obvious one being the extra boost of energy that comes from the interaction with another musician, which can go a long way to making the busking experience a lot more fun. (see blog archive – Sept 2009: Making Music With My Friends)
Down on Victoria’s inner harbour causeway, there have been many local buskers who have periodically joined forces to entertain the passersby. Some of these combinations have included one-man-band Dave Harris teaming up with myself or Swan Walker (steel drums) or Marty Field (guitar). Marty has himself paired up with Jake Quake (guitar), Leigh Grisewood (upright bass) or Julian Vitek (violin).
Another such combination is the duo of Jaime Nolan and Caleb Kennedy, two singer/guitarists who offer up rockin’ sets of popular songs that range from the ‘60s to more recent fare.
Of the two, Jaime, 34, has been busking the longest. After growing up back and forth between Ontario and Montreal, he moved out to Victoria in 1994 where he began playing along Government Street, and eventually he became a regular down on the inner harbour.
Caleb, 32, is originally from Keremeos BC in the southern Okanagan, and has been living in Victoria for the last seven years. He met Jaime when they began attending a weekly open stage / jam session at the Spiral Café in Vic West. In 2008, Caleb began busking as a guest on Jaime’s license, and last year he successfully auditioned for his own license on the harbour, and can now be found performing solo, as well as continuing the duo sets with Jaime.
A few weeks ago I sat down with Jaime and Caleb for this interview.
CD – Have either of you busked anywhere other than Victoria?
Caleb – I busked a little bit on the (BC) Ferries, I wasn’t planning on busking, I actually just started playing by myself and then people came by and they ended up giving me some money at the end of the thing. I (also) busked in the Okanagan when I went back to visit. In Penticton, there was a farmer’s market and I just played my guitar and people threw money in it so, it was good.
Jaime – I’ve busked all across Canada. When I was 21, I went all the way to P.E.I., and busked all the way back to Vancouver Island. Every city except for Edmonton, so I hit all the major cities, Quebec, Montreal, Halifax, Charlottetown, St John, Ottawa, Thunder Bay, Toronto, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, didn’t do Regina.
CD – How did those places compare with Victoria?
Jaime – They didn’t. Victoria’s the best. That’s why I’m here.
CD – What do you enjoy most about busking?
Caleb – I like playing for people, and we get a really nice crowd down here and you make a little bit of money doin’ it. There’s not much better that you could do with your day, you get to be outside in the sun, playing music, I mean, the whole thing about it is good.
Jaime – Yeah, I just love bein’ out here with the people. There are other busker spots that could be more lucrative, but the inner harbour, I just love socializing with the people, I love being down here, the community.
CD – How would you describe your style of music?
Caleb – You couldn’t say a genre because we do all sorts of genres, but just energetic. We like to put out a good energy, sometimes we’re kinda funny, you know, but, energy almost in everything we do, whether it’s a slow song or a fast song, we’re always puttin’ a lot into it.
Jaime – Yeah, we definitely have a different style when we play together as opposed to when we’re playing separately. When we’re together we try to play off each other’s energy. And this year we’re trying to incorporate some comedy stuff in there. But whenever I play alone, I’m mostly a real mellow player, you know like slow songs, like Neil Young kinda stuff, Blue Rodeo, but when I’m with Caleb it’s upbeat the whole time.
CD – Do you write any of your own material?
Caleb – Yeah, I write lots of songs.
CD – And how much of that do you do out on the street?
Caleb – I don’t know, probably like five or six songs that I’ll do on a fairly regular rotation. When I’m by myself I actually do a decent amount of originals, stuff which goes okay, hit and miss, it kinda depends on the crowd. And it depends on the day, if it’s a quieter day, sometimes I’ll just try a new song out and surprisingly I’ve had a pretty good response. If there are kids around occasionally I’ll pop into a little repertoire of original kids’ songs as well.
Jaime – I write a lot of songs but I don’t play them down here. When I first started, I played mostly my own stuff ‘cause I didn’t have a large enough repertoire, and then the more covers I learned, the more money I made so I just stopped playing my own stuff, and I just keep my own stuff to play in coffee shops.
CD – Who would be your musical influences?
Caleb – The Beatles, I think is an obvious one for me. I really like Weezer, which is a band that we do a couple of tunes of. I personally like things that are catchy, I don’t care who the person is who writes it, if it’s got a good feel to it; I like music to sound honest. I mean some pop songs are honest, some are not, so I like honest songs that are lyrically driven. I’m a big lyric guy.
Jaime – Me, definitely Neil Young, Bob Dylan, mostly acoustic artists like Van Morrison’s early stuff acoustically, something that I can busk with, you know. I love Pink Floyd, but I can’t play Pink Floyd down here, so what influenced my playing is definitely Bob Dylan and Neil Young.
CD – What’s your all-time favorite song to perform, the one that you never tire of playing?
Caleb – I don’t know if it’s my all-time favorite, but I don’t think I’ll ever tire of “500 Miles” by the Proclaimers. Every time we play it we get such a reaction that you just can’t help but wanna play it. Even if I was tired of playing it, I would keep playing it because you get such a good energy that it feels good playing it anyway.
Jaime – You go through phases, like where you got a song that you just love playing and you play it all summer, sometimes you play it twice in a set, but it changes. However, I never get tired of my Neil Young songs.
CD – What is your most memorable busking experience?
Caleb – This summer my two kids came out with me, and Jaime’s son Harbour came out, and we had another friend over and the kids came up and they happened to be wearing their soccer gear, and they sang the “Waving Flag Song” which is the soccer anthem for the World Cup, and people just went crazy for it. So, it’s kind of a dad moment, ‘cause it wasn’t really as much about me, it was more about them, but that was pretty cool for me.
Jaime – It’s tough ‘cause most memorable moments, they change. This is my 16th year and maybe five years ago I might've had a different answer
‘cause other memories are fresh in your head. But for me definitely, I started busking this summer with my son on the drums. That was like the coolest thing ever. I thought that maybe when he was 16 he might play with me, but I didn’t expect him to be 6 years old.
CD – What was your worst busking experience?
Caleb – It was probably one of my early ones when I went to do an evening shift and I didn’t know much about it and it was windy and cold and people weren’t interested at all, and a couple of guys heckled me and I think I made like $4 in like 2½ hours, it was just terrible, so that was probably my worst one.
Jaime – I think my worst was, I was like busking hard for so many days and on the day of my birthday I got intense sunstroke and I got violently ill and I almost didn’t make it home and that was a horrible experience.
CD – Anything else you’d like to add in relation to busking?
Jaime – It’s definitely something you have to be devoted to. A lot of the new buskers, they try it once or twice and when the income’s not sufficient they give up. It’s something you’ve gotta be disciplined and you just gotta play all day in order to pay that rent, but, you have to love it, you can’t just do it ‘cause it’s a job, you have to love it.
Caleb – And you’ve got to be willing to take those days when you’re not going to do much and you have to be willing to be okay with that. You know sometimes, the next day you’ll do better, so you just gotta be okay with that. And that’s one thing I’ve sort of been training myself, like I’ll look down and it’s been an hour and there’s five bucks in there, and I’m like okay well that’s five bucks I didn’t have before. I could’ve sat at home and played guitar and made nothin’, so you know, attitude I think is a big part of success.
Jaime – Attitude, yeah.
When not performing on the inner harbour, Caleb and Jaime also play together in a 5-piece band called Weak Patrol, which will be playing at the Upstairs Cabaret in Bastion Square on Thursday, August 5th.
Jaime told me “It's nothing like our busking sets. It’s completely electric, and it’s all originals”, to which Caleb added “But, it’s still good, still high energy”.
If you can, be sure to check ‘em out, and in the meantime you can find video clips and more info at the following links:
Jaime Nolan circa 2007