Good places to busk in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Madison?
May 1, 2010 3:10 AM   Subscribe

I'll be visiting Chicago, Milwaukee, and Madison soon and was hoping to earn a bit of extra cash busking. I play unamplified cello, mostly classical music. I'm not very familiar with any of those cities, so I'm looking for recommendations for places that might be good to play with my case open-- and also places i should definitely avoid, if any. Also note: I'll probably be taking my chances and doing so without a permit, so somewhere with lower probability of being hassled is a plus.
posted by mingo_clambake to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
For both Chicago and Milwaukee, along the riverfronts. (Don't know about permit rules.)
posted by megatherium at 3:55 AM on May 1, 2010

I don't know anything about the regulations, and of course you should follow them. The place in Madison with the most buskers and the best audience is State Street. Notably, cars are not allowed to drive down this street (with certain exemptions: fire, police, delivery).
posted by Jaltcoh at 4:18 AM on May 1, 2010

Best answer: In Milwaukee, the only place I can think of having seen buskers is along the lakefront during any of the festivals and by the Bradley Center after sporting events. Otherwise, maybe the Marquette or UWM campuses, but most people will be done with the semester soon. Good luck! Let us know how it goes.

Not sure if it would be legal, but you could try the corner by the intersection of Wisconsin Ave. and Water St. in Milwaukee during lunch time. There are a lot of people there heading out for hot dogs and the like and enough room to play.
posted by drezdn at 5:12 AM on May 1, 2010

Best answer: In Madison definitely State St as Jaltcoh said. Also, if you're in Madison on a Saturday, play at the farmer's market up on the capitol square all morning and you'll strike gold. Thousands of people from the surrounding areas come to that farmer's market and I have musician friends who have been able to walk away from a Saturday morning with over $200.
posted by kthxbi at 5:48 AM on May 1, 2010

I have to agree with drezdn about the Wisconsin and Water location. The only time I've ever seen buskers in downtown Milwaukee its been there. If it helps, I've never seen anyone hassle them. (I think the closer to bridge you go the less hassle you're likely to get.)
posted by fellion at 5:48 AM on May 1, 2010

I'd try to get a permit in Chicago, if you can. I had a friend who was a balloon artist and he told me that the police are very strict about checking in the summertime and issuing fines to those who don't have them. You might lose more than the cost of a permit if you do get caught. Not only that, but there are certain places where street performers are not allowed to be even if they have a permit (Water Tower Place is one) and the only real way to find out where you're not allowed to go is to get a permit.

I'm not sure where megatherium is thinking of when he says the Chicago riverfront. Maybe s/he can clarify? I would definitely not go play by the lake. People are too busy running or riding their bikes to stop. There is a riverside path, but I'm not sure that it's that frequently used. I most often see buskers on the fringes of Millennium and Grant Parks and on Michigan Avenue downtown. I also see musicians on the subway occasionally.
posted by Colonel_Chappy at 5:52 AM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

In Chicago, the only place to park yourself is the Mag Mile. (Michigan Ave between the river and Water Tower.) Try to fight off 5-gallon-drum guy and get the spot in front of the Wrigley Building. I don't know about the permit thing (though you definitely have to have one to play in the CTA stations), but I can't imagine that 5-gallon-drum guy has one.
posted by phunniemee at 6:43 AM on May 1, 2010

Best answer: There are often buskers on the bridges on the west side of the loop around rush hour. There are thousands of people going across those bridges to the train stations and parking lots on the other side, so you get an audience. However, it's outdoors and the volume of people going by might make an unamplified cello difficult to hear. The most successful one I've seen plays drums on the Madison street bridge.

Also, certain guys have their spots and might be annoyed if you were moving in on their territory. Maybe you can go without your cello one day to get a feel for who is where and whether you could find a spot to play and be heard.

If you can make this work, I'll drop a couple of bucks in your case as I walk by. I love my walk to the train station- the guy playing the drums, the newspaper hawkers ("Get your tribune here, 75 cents, Trib here, high of 65 tomorrow and sunny, Trib here") and the down on her luck woman with the awesome red shoes that I talk to when I have a few minutes before my train-- it is very urban and lively. A cello would make it even better.
posted by ohio at 6:50 AM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Madison does not require permits for busking. If you sell CDs you're supposed to get a street vendor's permit, but they generally don't enforce it unless you create a problem. The Farmer's Market on Saturday is a great opportunity, but anywhere on State Street would be good. If you're here during the week you can set up near the Capitol Square around lunch hour and catch the State workers emerging from their cubes for lunch. Library Mall at the other end of State might be a good spot to play at noon, but you'll want to stay far away from the Piccolo Guy, who can get pretty loud.
posted by Floydd at 7:50 AM on May 1, 2010

If you're in Milwaukee before June 6th, the Milwaukee Public Museum, located downtown, is currently showing a massively popular exhibit on the Dead Sea Scrolls. Since people must buy a time-specific entry ticket, there will be people arriving early and milling around.
posted by carmicha at 9:22 AM on May 1, 2010

Best answer: Busking in Chicago

Busking at the Lincoln Park Zoo

Two sweet spots ( though there might be others there, are just off the moving walkway at Ohare, and the underground walkway/tunnel between the Red and Blue Lines downtown. Nice acoustics that would make your cello twice as loud, plus a long space for people walking up and by to hear you, rather than a quick snippet.

Good luck!
posted by timsteil at 9:25 AM on May 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Milwaukee:

1, Wisconsin and Water as mentioned above
2, east end of Wisconsin Ave, here
3, along Harbor Drive as people walk into the festival ground entrances (most common place I've seen buskers)
4, This is a long shot, but Alterra Coffee has outside seating along the lakefront, and they MIGHT let you play if you ask nicely.

I am making NO claims that these are legal places. I do regard them as safe because of the heavy foot traffic.

There are a lot of festivals going on in the summer and I see buskers all the time, especially at Bastille Days. Or maybe Jazz in the Park? These are VERY crowded. Also you seem like you'd fit in at the Lakefront Festival of Arts.

Avoid the university areas; college kids don't have money, they're not particularly safe in the evenings, and they'll be deserted in summer. I strongly disagree with carmicha's suggestion of the Public Museum; it's one block away from the main police building and cops drive by constantly. I also disagree with the riverfront, I think you'll get chased away by restaurant owners, but I could be wrong.
posted by desjardins at 2:50 PM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I love it when people busk in that loop red/blue line transfer tunnel; sound really reverberates inside of it. A cello would be amazing; please do it.
posted by thewrongparty at 5:08 PM on May 2, 2010

In Milwaukee there are several good places.

*Corner of Brady Street and Oakland Ave.

*University of Wisconsin Milwaukee campus

*along Lake Drive by Bradford Beach

you should also look up local bars that might have open mic nights.

hope this helps

posted by SummerRose86 at 7:37 PM on May 3, 2010

SummerRose86: *Corner of Brady Street and Oakland Ave.

Do you mean North and Oakland? Brady & Oakland always struck me as relatively quiet, plus there's a church there. OTOH, Pizza Man burned down so I'm sure there's not as much traffic on North & Oakland as there used to be.

Bradford Beach is a good suggestion.
posted by desjardins at 4:28 PM on May 4, 2010

« Older Lala is DEAD!   |   How many VW Bugs = 1 coulomb? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.