I began performing on street corners in the fall of 2013 so I feel like at this point I have a good handle on how to work a crowd. But oh boy did Vegas change that opinion fast. When we decided to spend December and January in Las Vegas I knew I didn’t want to spend a ton of time on the Strip. As fun as the Strip can be for tourists it’s not a great place to perform. You get to share the area with a ton of other people soliciting in a giant mass of humanity, and there are legal issues and strict regulations against performances and other kinds of ‘solicitation’. Not a great recipe for violin busking. Fremont Street however, had all the makings of a great busking space.
It’s almost impossible to fully explain what Fremont Street is, but this video below will help get at the heart of it. Here is a video of me busking at the entrance to the Fremont Street Experience, the first of our new series of videos documenting street performances from around the country.
As you can see, Fremont is lively, bright and colorful. The Fremont St. Experience covers four blocks of casinos, bars, and shops, with the worlds largest LED screen. It’s like having a roof made out of jumbo-trons. The scene is always loud and raucous, with cover bands performing nightly, and all manner of street performers. Most of the regulars that I would run into were character performers. I found them hilarious to watch, these people were even better characters when they WEREN’T in costume! We met a Mickey and Minnie mouse who chain smoked and talked about 70s glory days while they were on ‘break’ (i.e. – heads not in the costume). There was a Luke Skywalker character who challenged everyone to one-handed light saber fights because he always had a lit cigarette in the other hand. My favorite performer was a young percussionist called ‘T-Rex’ who had Phocomelia but was an amazing drummer and a sweet man who welcomed me into the street performer’s group.
Right when we arrived in Vegas, the city had just put new regulations in place control and manage street performers in the area. I usually see this as a good thing, even if it’s a pain for most locals. Having any kind of process to get access means that you don’t get hassled as much once you’re there.
Fremont however, was the first time I have had to compete with massive amounts of sheer crowd and music volume. My trusty little street cube just wasn’t up to the task and blew the speaker after a few hours of performances. This gave me pause, usually the atmosphere I’m working in is fairly calm and people are moving through leisurely (airports, city streets, farmers markets). But here there were distractions everywhere and my music just wasn’t competing with the overwhelming glitz and gaudiness of Fremont street. But that just made me want to up my game!
So my solution was to upgrade my Street cube amp to a larger model – the Street Cube EX. This would let me perform at higher volumes when necessary but I could still go down to my normal settings. The big step, was putting together my micro pedal board. I usually only have a loop station for effects so I added a tiny preamp (boosting volume and tone), then a metal distortion (because it rocks), a baby wah pedal (its cute AND crazy!), and a Boss Harmonist pedal (to get better bass tones). I also had to spend a few weeks adding in some more rocking songs to my set list to really get the most attention.
We set a date after New Years as our “go time” for testing out the new setup. I went down to Fremont, set up my brand new gear, and turned it all on for the first time. Once I hit that wah pedal, game over! The crowds were MUCH more engaged and I felt like I could settle into playing for a few hours.
I think stepping into new spaces like Fremont street really stretch me as a performer and make me really tap into the heart and character of the space to draw in crowds. Fremont is in the heart of downtown old Vegas and has a storied history. It’s a little gritty, bright, gaudy, and quirky, and I imagine it as the heart of what Vegas is.
If you’re traveling through Las Vegas I highly recommend visiting Fremont St. and the Container park right next door (The Container park has a giant preying mantis statue that shoots fire out of it’s antennae at night). I’ll definitely be back and playing at Fremont street again as we travel through Vegas later this year. Viva Las Vegas!
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