Niagara Falls and So Do We, Day 1

Alrighty then. Chicago’s happy furniture and cooking frenzy softened out on a peaceful overnight train ride to Buffalo. Piotr nabbed me at the station and we proceeded to mostly sequester ourselves inside his home – a theme in its beginning stages. On the few notable occasions we weren’t talking or playing Starcraft II or jamming and editing songs (more on that later) or eating his mother’s delicious pierogies, we headed off for some longish excursion thanks to his taking time off work. I’d pretty much packed it in for busking for whatever reason, but we took our guitars to Niagara Falls anyways – in my mind so as to just play at a park nearby.

My parents told me I saw Niagara Falls the last time I went to Ontario. As my memory works exceedingly poorly in correlation to how far removed in time the event occurred, I don’t remember a thing. In fact, I hardly remember anything before age five, and really not much before grade three. As if I’ve a set decade and a half of clear memories and before that nothing. Well suffice to say – Niagara Falls is freaking awesome. Not holy crap it’s photoshopped huge (see the Grand Canyon) or Waaaaahhh (see Zion NP), but friendly in a you’re totally gonna die if you fall in me sort of way. As one approaches from the American side it’s immediately clear the river means business.

At any rate we didn’t tarry all that long out there so as to wander over to the Canadian side. A characteristically lax border guard there waved us through and Piotr found some happily free parking about a mile away. Local knowledge! I figured since we’d brought our guitars in the car we might as well lug them down with us. (I was a bit more reticent since mine lived in my trademark absurdly heavy hardshell.) You’d never believe Canada has fewer citizens than Florida from the discrepancy in tourists (and in displayed wealth via tourist attractions) at this border. A perfect place to busk, maybe, but I’d not looked up the rules and I didn’t really feel like ruining the immersive roar of the waves with some folk tunes. It’s kind of like disrespect, no?

Piotr and I claimed a bench facing the falls. Some disagreements over twelve bar blues progressions and the subsequent failures at jamming with these disagreements further enforced my decision not to actively busk. My busking is an art form, a performance, prepared and practiced and delivered professionally. Practicing on the street is precisely not what I see busking as, so I pointedly opened my case with the top facing the sidewalk and the opening facing me (still open so I might grab tuner or capo or lyrics as I’d need).

Piotr soloed off the chords I laid down, until eventually I decided I didn’t particularly care about the magical aura anymore and sang a few songs, giving him space between verses to solo for extended periods. I’m not much of a guitar soloist while Piotr inclines towards shredding. An interesting collaboration, certainly. Luckily he’s far less snobbish and closed minded about music than I am so I didn’t have to try and play punk/metalcore/screamo style and he adapted to my folkiness. Aren’t I a pill? But really, I do believe folk tunes are the least offensive to the average passerby – would you be more likely to deplore a folk busker or a metal screamo busker at a National Park? Folk seems to fit. At least I’m rationalizing it to be so.

Reactions… mixed. As per usual before I started to sing (maybe five to ten songs) in the long bouts before where I just played chords with my head down and my hair partially obscuring my face, men took an inordinate interest in us. A lot of bending over and not at all surreptitious scrutiny of as much of my face as they could see behind the veil. To further illustrate how I wasn’t busking I faced Piotr the whole time (who looked at the bench in front of him), or turned to the falls, mostly ignoring the passersby except for the occasional nod and smile. The usual young kids, some groups of university students, a request or two. I felt strange yet liberated to play without performing. Our session further underscored precisely what busking is by all we did not do. In fact I believe it was this short session that convinced me I was well and truly done with it, at least for some time.

Probably that and the following day’s free concert from the John Butler Trio. John Butler’s a busking legend from Fremantle, Western Australia (a busking town, so they say). His absolutely phenomenal skill spoke of tons and tons of practice. And that’s what I haven’t had much of any opportunity to do this trip – practice. It seems to me that one gets better at something by simply doing more of it. This holds true for climbing, and art, and certainly in my experience with the violin. But busking is about performance and as a performer you cannot practice at all out there on the street (save for those few instances suddenly alone in a tunnel). That’s rude. So I’m a damn decent performer now who’s cemented bad technical habits in his voice and guitar style. Now I need that time I devoted to travel and blogging and seeing and planning and cooking for practice, and I need to spend some time not performing at all.

As for tips we got some coins from kids particularly keen on us (who came all the way up to the bench and practically right up to us to drop them around the black top screening them away). Pretty courageous, really. Most amusingly, we got a $2.50 casino token. We didn’t use it.

Earnings: 1.02 CAD, 2.50 casino token, 1.5 hours

Song of the Day: Where is My Mind – The Pixies

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