The sidewalks of downtown will soon become a stage for Greater Lowell's musicians and performers with new Busk Stops coming in July.
Dowtown's group of creative minds behind the idea say welcoming licensed street performers will enhance the city's arts and cultural focus, especially on Fridays this summer as the Farmer's Market returns with the addition of an art vendors' walk by day and evening concerts at Boarding House Park.
"We're trying to bring a festival-like atmosphere into the city on Fridays," said Andy Jacobson, owner of Brew'd Awakening Coffeehaus and member of the Fresh Air Friday Committee. "We have a lot of musicians in the area and this is an opportunity for them to get more exposure."
Busker is a British word for street performer —a loose profession of mimes, fire eaters, jugglers, musicians, acrobats, magicians and performance artists that dates to ancient Egypt. Buskers flourished in medieval Renaissance Europe and captured the imagination of 20th century Americans by spreading jazz and hip hop.
Downtown Lowell's Busk Stops will be marked with signs and placed in areas with heavy foot traffic, including Market, Central, Merrimack and Middle streets.
Jacobson says Busk Stops should be in full swing for the launch of Fresh Air Friday, beginning the first Friday in July.
For buskers, the street is the stage. Musicians like it because there is no safety net. If you're good, the people watching will know it.
If you're bad, well, they'll know that too.
Sidewalk performing, some say, forces you to play well and Lowell is a good place to test your musical chops.
"Lowell has always been a magical place for music," said Justin Burns, also known for his fast-picking acoustic skills and hard-driving harmonica in Reverend JJ and The Casual Sinners. "The locals don't expect to see the best entertainment, they demand it."
And if you don't give them what they expect," they'll let you know," Burns said.
"If you can do it in this city, ain't no city you can't do it in."
Besides musicians and performance artists, the new Fresh Air Fridays in downtown will feature outside seating at downtown restaurants, sidewalk sales, an expanded farmer's market and plenty of free space for artists to showcase their artwork.
Jacobson said the addition of Busk Stops is just another sign of the city's beating artistic heart.
The stops will be active seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., with the exception of the Folk Festival during the last weekend of July, when the busk stops will be on hold due to other festival happenings.
Under street performer rules, buskers must keep noise at a considerate level — no amplifiers allowed— and share the prime spots, keeping their time to about an hour.
"I can see a lot of musicians taking advantage of this," Jacobson said. "It will bring more life downtown."