Three Dollars in a Guitar Case: How Buskers Become Local Landmarks

Community Nov 14, 2023

by Gilliana Hope

A standard night busking starts with location scouting, you’ll want to put on a Goldilocks lens when finding a place to settle in for the evening. Pick a space where it won’t be too loud and you won’t be egregiously in people’s way, that will be a disservice to your music-making mission. When it comes time to perform, pick pieces that vigorously proclaim your presence so you aren’t overpowered by crowds, traffic, and other noises of the habitat – a natural form of ambiance that comes with this business.

Perhaps take a page out of local busker Quiver’s book, as he believes singing interesting lyrics is what can attract more people than a catchy tune. Once a spot has been claimed, he’ll open his guitar case and throw in a few dollars. “My best nights have always been when I had three dollars in seed money,” the busker explained. Then, let the invisible curtain go up and the show begins!

Typically the musician will play anywhere from two to five hours, taking about a halfhour break in between to hopefully save his voice from getting blown out. Consistency throughout the night is key, as no one should feel targeted when they stumble upon this musical happenstance. Quiver’s attitude has remained the same throughout his years at this, “I’m a fixture of the environment that they just so happened to pass by and see.” In comparison, he saw himself on the same level as any other bar sign one might cross during their night on the town.

A homegrown talent, Quiver entered the arts scene through his passion for poetry. Hesitation seemed to hold him back from meeting his full potential in this realm, at first. When he published his work and performed it pre-moniker, a cautious filter loomed over his artistic freedom. Still itching to stay active in the arts, he transitioned into film and focused on what he could do behind a camera. Moving from Appleton to Chicago was a freeing experience, where he was given the name Quiver. Gaining a new identity as he entered the film industry produced an increase in confidence that allowed him to embrace being more honest with his work. In contemplation of this emboldenment, the artist recalled a phrase he’s heard throughout his entire life – “Give someone a mask [and] you see who they really are.”

Music was always there, lurking in the background of Quiver’s life even when he didn’t believe in his capabilities. Having grown up on the local bar street, he took his practice session into the city on a whim, figuring the most harm that could come was an embarrassed blush. He claimed to be playing “horribly” at the time, but people gave the benefit of the doubt and encouraged him to keep going. Onlookers seemed to want someone to believe in, to feed the fire of someone’s potential and watch it grow as he honed his skills. Within a week, he would write his first song. Nowadays, when he has a less than successful night, he will recall the very first one and realize he has nothing to be afraid of. Besides, in his opinion, he’s definitely better than he was back then.

It’s clear in any local music space Quiver walks into that everyone wants to be graced with even a moment of his time. Since coming back to Appleton, while his face may be the same, the persona has shifted away from the teenager he once was. “If I were to run into me from ten years ago, he’d be very happy and relieved that things worked out the way that they did,” he reflected. It is clear how grateful Quiver is for the level of local success and respect he’s garnered. When people genuinely want to listen and hear what the musician has to say, it’s a reminder of how lucky he is to live this life.

I would not be doing Quiver’s story justice without noting how there is a level of invisibility in the world around him due to blindness. Inevitably, it impacts his busking experiences. On a positive note, people’s dirty looks don’t bother them much, but when people do take the time to stop and stick around for a song or two, he is always in a skeptic state. Are they waiting to throw out a compliment or heckle? Either way, it provides an electrifying rush, so he’ll dial up the performance in an attempt to prove that stopping in one’s trek was worth it.

Once a couple of months into the groove of things, buskers often blend into the background of the street’s environment. However, fading into the scenery and disappearing completely are two separate acts. Some regular spectators have been known to wonder what happened to local buskers. Say, did that guy with the banjo move to another city? Why did the girl who would drum on the street stop coming out? Whatever happened to that DJ, you know the one who played remixed versions of nineties hits? Even when never tipping or even acknowledging them directly, they were still noticed. We’re left only with questions to be unsatisfactorily solved by theorizing. Quiver’s proclamation expressed the goal of the majority of buskers is to make your day better, “If you want a smile from someone, they’ll give it to you… you don’t have to steal it from them.” So, you heard it here first: if you see someone with a bandana and guitar singing their heart out, be sure to say hello.

Gilliana Hope is an avid believer in creative expression as a vital tool for healing, having turned to it throughout her entire life. With a synergy between her identities as a songwriter, singer, and writer, often she feels like a vessel for the words she composes. The poetic and musical tales she weaves come from a brutally personal place, for better or worse. Her work can be found on social media