The romantic image of the guitar player, armed with only his wits and his instrument, travelling around the countryside has been engraved in the minds of musicians and fans alike since the days of Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Bo Diddley's classic 1960 album, Have Guitar Will Travel. In an era of electronic beeps and boops and online downloading, that image is kept alive by a precious few that includes University of Calgary student club Busking for Smiles.
Initially set up in 1999 when a pair of friends thought it would be fun to busk in the foyer of the Social Sciences building, Busking for Smiles eventually grew into a bona fide campus institution. The club hosts an open mike every other Tue. night at the Black Lounge, aimed at getting curious students off their duffs and in front of a microphone to try their hand at playing whatever their hearts desire.
"One of the best things about open mike is it gives people who've never had a chance to ever sing into a mike or hooked up to any sort of equipment a chance to do that in a setting that's not really pressured," says club president Brett Murphy. "There are tons of people that come out just to play, so you meet a lot of other musicians who can give you little tips. The first time I ever played miked up was when I joined this club two years ago."
Over the past several years, Busking for Smiles has provided the campus' burgeoning musicians with an opportunity to perform on a larger scale than open mike night. Usually operating two large-scale shows per semester, BFS presents the
year's lone big show at That Empty Space Fri., Mar. 28.
"We're actually doing That Empty Space for the first time," says vice president Jonathan Li. "The thing is, with how we run our Busking for Smiles shows, people who actually come out and do it write their own songs. We limit the [large-scale] shows to originals, so people can see the actual
songwriting talent of the students instead of just doing covers."
Despite the perception of buskers are folks playing guitar, Murphy and Li note that the club welcomes any and all aspiring songwriters. While the Empty Space show will focus entirely on guitars, BFS' open mike nights often see a wide array of instruments on display.
"In the last few weeks, we've had some interesting different instruments out," says Murphy. "The other day, we had a guy bring out his djembe and next week we have a guy who wants to bring out his full electronic drum kit. We get a little bit of a jam session going that way. Sometimes people get up with harmonicas, but mostly it's just guitars. Guitars and vocals for the most part, just because guitar is the easiest thing. You can bring it anywhere, you can hook it up, it's light. For the most part they're inexpensive, so we have one for the club that anyone can use."
While the open mike nights allow newcomers to approach performing in a low-key setting, the club's larger shows are different. Instead of showcasing newcomers, the shows are designed to provide an avenue for up to 10 aspiring professionals to display their talents.
"It definitely gives people a chance to play in a professional setting," says Murphy. "It's more of an event. In years past, we've been able to sell
out the Rosza Centre. We haven't been able to do that the last couple years, but have had 500 people out to these things. This year, we're expecting to be able to fill up That Empty Space to capacity."
Busking for Smiles rocks out in That Empty Space Fri., Mar. 28 at 7 p.m. It's a day-full of free music!