Off the street and into the spotlight

By James Keller

The concept of the unplugged concert, popularized by the MTV series of the same name, invokes many different musical images. From acoustic guitars and bongo drums to tambourines and untouched vocals, they all have one thing in common: it’s about music, bare bones and stripped-down, pure and simple.

Enter Busking for Smiles. You may have seen them in action, playing away in the Science Theatres lobby or giving away free coffee in the MacKimmie Library during exam week. They even held a thrift store sale last year in MacEwan Hall. Whether they’re playing music or selling cheap clothing, they too have a common thread: making people smile.

The culmination of this mandate is Unplugged, a reoccurring concert highlighting student talent now entering its fourth installment.

“It’s an opportunity for University of Calgary students to experience some of the culture that’s going on here when there isn’t other venues to experience it,” says Busking for Smiles President Anthony Kapass. “It’s for the students that will be watching, and it’s for the students playing, to get them into a professional setting.”

Six students will each perform two songs over the course of the evening, ending with local artist Kris Demeanor playing a 45-minute set. Demeanor is the event’s headliner, which in the past has included rising local artists like Tariq, who performed at the end of Unplugged Three last year.

“The headliner is there to promote Calgary culture,” says Kapass. “It also gives students and performers a professional who’s making their living doing it.”

The whole experience aims to emulate a professional gig, giving performers a taste of what the real world is like.

“It’s to get the students playing in a professional setting,” says Jaim Cullen, who performed in Unplugged last year. “I didn’t really perform much before Unplugged. I think it gave me the vehicle to get out and feel confident.”

Busking for Smiles saw 21 students audition for the show, but had to narrow the list down to 13. Six were booked for this show and seven are already lined-up for Unplugged Five. According to Cullen and Kapass, it wasn’t an easy process.

“A lot of it comes down to talent and songwriting ability,” begins Kapass, “but a lot of it is also presence and personality.”

“A couple people made us laugh and we decided that’s a good stage presence,” Cullen adds. “If they can get up and do that, they’ll warm up the audience.”

Even for the eight performers who will now be watching the performances from the audience, the experience didn’t end with auditions, nor will it end with the curtain call for those who made the cut. It invites people into a community where everyone helps one another.

“Last year, we all sort of meshed,” remembers Cullen. “During the auditions, we told people to start networking, even if they didn’t make the cuts.”

Kapass agrees, pointing out that the event and the club create a sense of community between those involved.

“That’s one of the coolest things about Unplugged,” he said. “It brings people together to play together and write together.”

Listen to Jaim Cullen on CJSW Thu, Nov. 14 at 6 p.m. with a live performance by Unplugged artist Neil Stephenson.

Unplugged Four: Nov. 21, 8 p.m. Boris Roubakine Recital Hall. Tickets $6.00 at Campus Ticket Centre.


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