Look closely and you’ll find many diverse performing artists in Dallas and Fort Worth busking in tourist attractions or historic art districts. The best buskers in DFW all have something in common: they love personal interaction, instant feedback and the freedom and purity of their art form. Famous past buskers include Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Dixie Chicks and Sheryl Crow.
Tracy Gilmour, the director of marketing at Sundance Square in Fort Worth, supports buskers, saying “Street musicians bring flavor and vibrancy to our community.” Local city ordinances meant to control panhandling make it difficult for street performers to earn a living. Buskers cannot collect tips or sell their CDs. Gilmour is looking into a formalized busker program, including a contest to select artists who will perform for tips or a stipend. The performers who remain out on the streets sharing their craft are truly passionate about their work and sharing their music and art with Texas tourists and locals alike.
The Dallas Family Band
Dallas Family Band is a group comprised of many talented bands: Fox and the Bird, The Beaten Sea, Dry Creek and Spooky Folk. The group also consists of individual musicians Jacob Metcalf, Lala Gray, Raymond Cade and Wheeler Sparks. Usually five or more people form a busker group and hit parts of Dallas, entertaining for free before jumping back into their van. Their original Americana pieces include vocalists, guitars, keyboards, violins, banjos, drums, melodicas and tambourines.
Dallas Family Band member Dan Bowman feels the historic Deep Ellum district is on the rise. During the 1920s and 1930s such greats as Bessie Smith and Blind Lemon Jefferson played there. During the late 80s, the Dixie Chicks became part of its history. Bowman said, “Dallas is a blank slate giving bands the ability to influence what’s going on. You have the ability to be part of something. Pop, punk, rock and folk are very much alive here.”
Country Western singers Gladys & Maybelle
At the Fort Worth Stockyards across the street from The Love Shack is the sister act Gladys & Maybelle. Native Texans Julia Rose and Deb Crawford began busking in the summer of 2010 to earn money for a trip to Graceland for Elvis Week. In the beginning, the pair just wanted to make a few bucks, but now they have a sold out first album appropriately titled Memphis Cash.
“They have voices like angels,” Chelsea Shearon, a bartender at the Love Shack, exclaimed, placing them at the top of her list. Gladys & Maybelle stand out with their fresh-faces, homemade pillbox hats and 1950s vintage vogue pattern dresses. Among their favorite stars are Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline.
Their advice for novice street performers: “Don’t let inhibitions stand in your way! The worst thing that can happen is they just walk by you. Or they don’t tip.”
Acoustical guitarist Deryle Nickelson
Daytime busker, artist and musician Deryle Nickelson performs at the Stockyards in front of the White Elephant next door to the Love Shack. Expecting the 58-year-old vet to sing country western songs, tourists soon discover a talented classical acoustical guitarist. Shearon describes his music as “crowd stopping beautiful.”
Classic Country and Gospel duo Ray Brandenburg and Irma Warchesik
Irma Warchesik and Ray Brandenburg busk across the street from the Love Shack in the Fort Worth Stockyards. While Ray is strumming his guitar and belting out gospel songs, his co-writer Irma softly sings along. Her motorized chair houses her oxygen tanks but she has no plans to slow down. Songwriter, guitarist and mandolin player Ray Brandenburg is an impressive talent. He used to play the harmonica but told God he was going to give it up because he was bad at it. Dreaming of becoming a famous singer-songwriter and now in his retirement years, Brandenburg still has it. Warchesik is also one heck of a songwriter.
Professional clown Russ Sharek
Russ Sharek, a professional clown and director of Circus Freaks, is not the typical circus clown. He has a thin expressive face with bushy eyebrows, piercing brown eyes and a full beard. He turns juggling into high art with magical hands that seem to suspend a glass ball in mid air and then move on its own.
Sharek refuses to spend his life fretting in a corporate office. He recently created a variety show and performers’ playground called Open Stage. It gives performers a safe place with an engaged and supportive audience to help them hone their skills.
Sharek said, “Dallas doesn’t have a street performer culture. If someone starts performing people don’t have any idea what to do with that. If I’m not freaking people out I’m winning.” He loves street performing because it gives him immediate feedback on new ideas.