Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Busking with the Banjo

Greetings to all in Banjo Ben’s community with a special shout out to our terrific leader Ben! This is my first time to post to the forum but I’m encouraged to do so by all who have posted before.

Do any others busk out there (share your craft in public as a soloist?). I’ve just moved to Chicago and am waiting for it to get warm enough to play on or somewhere near the Magificent Mile. If any city could use a banjo tune, Chicago would be near the top of the list! This will be state #8 - I’ve never lived anywhere long enough to settle into a regular jam or start a band. So busking seems to be my destiny.

I did some busking when living in Vienna, VA and, while intimidating at first to play in public, found it to be well received. I met some wonderful people along the way. I figured why am I playing to no one in my house - shouldn’t I put myself out there and see if banjo music can bring a smile to someone?

Interested in others’ experiences and thoughts on this topic!



Hey Jay, I think this is my first reply to a post, besides a video or two. I’ve never busked per say, but I do carry a beater banjo in the back of my truck and practice all the time in parking lots while I wait for my wife as she takes of business errands, appts meetings etc. She doesn’t drive so I do, do this a whole lot. Even just sitting in my truck I meet many wonderful folks that stop by, listen, talk, smile, and share their stories. It’s fun stuff. My thought, is go for it if you got it and enjoy it. Personally I know I’d enjoy it if I had it, but as a solo entertainer uh-noosiree.

Butch B.

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hey @jayalverson3 - glad to you decided to chime in on the forum.

I’ve never busked. But I plan to change all that this summer once it warms up. For me, it’s a confidence thing. I’m pretty introverted by nature, and working up the confidence to let a banjo twang in front of strangers has kept me from jams and the like. However, any time I’ve gone to one I’ve enjoyed the heck out of myself. I can’t see busking having any kind of different outcome.

My main apprehension with busking with my banjo is how short most of the breaks are that I know. I’ve tried singing and picking at the same time - it’s about as graceful as a 7-month old eating mashed peas for the first time. So how do I play songs in a way that will be engaging beyond the 30 sec - 1 minute for a single break? I realize they don’t have to be longer than that, but I’d just like for it to go down that way.

The other apprehension is what if somebody pulls out their instrument and starts trying to play along with me? That’s where I get really nervous because my skills really tend to break down at that point.

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Hi Jay

Welcome to @BanjoBen 's Forum

Great question. One of the reason’s I took up the banjo was I wanted to give up working and take up a nomadic lifestyle. 11 years on I am still learning to play banjo and at 70 I think I am way past my sell by date to start gallivanting around the world.

I hope you can find a sheltered corner in the windy city. You be careful carrying your music case around the Chicago streets somebody may think it contains something other than a banjo

Here is the Late Great Dave Hum heading Down the Road.

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Butch - thanks for the reply and the story. I think that counts as some form of busking - maybe trucsking?! Great idea on how to get more practice in too.

Keep on with the parking lot picking!


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Bingo on the confidence thing. That’s my hurdle - wondering what others might think and executing on some reasonable proficientcy level when people are watching.

I think if you determine to get out there you just need to set that fear aside and go for it. And I’d think the more you do it and get positive feedback the more confidence you’d build. I’ll let you know if that works out!

In the end it’s about sharing the joy of banjo playing and meeting others.


I haven’t done lots of it, but I’d like to. My little girls go to a small school. I was up there for a function and a middle school kiddo approached me…turns out he watches my vids on YouTube. Anyway, I got him hooked up with a membership, etc., and found out he liked to busk outside the ticket window before Friday night football games. He said he didn’t make hardly anything but it was fun.

I thought that was an excellent idea so I took my guitar up there and we worked up 4-5 tunes to put on rotation. I left the guitar case open and that kiddo made about $50 in a half hour. He was beside himself!! Well, until I took the 90% Banjo Ben tax. KIDDING, I didn’t do that!

Anyway, he was so stoked and ready to do it before the big homecoming game the next Friday, and I was too, until he was told by the administration that it wasn’t allowed any longer. I have yet to investigate and protest myself, but I believe I will before this fall rolls around.


Oh come on! It’s all fun and games until somebody makes 50 bucks.

I read at one point that you had to buy a permit to busk where I live, but I just called the city and they said there’s no ordinance for that anymore. Woo hoo!

Anyway, if y’all are on the sidewalk outside the ticket window then that’s city property as a public right of way and you’d just need to check the ordinances.

It’s still on school property…boo. I think they wanted to cut it off quick. Once the other kids saw that he was making fast cash, there’s no telling what talents might pop up on the curb. Hahaha.

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As some one once told me, “no good deed goes unpunished”! Nonetheless, it’s a great story!

It’s a $100 to get a busking license in Chicago but an officer told me it shouldn’t be a problem. I’m not sure I’m going to take tips - if I do I’ll buy myself a Stans donut and give the rest to charity. My primary goal is to take what I’ve learned from good folks like Ben and others here and try to spread some 5-string joy.

It’s forecast to be 70 degrees in Chicago on Saturday so the pressure is on!


Sweet Home Chicago…

Please make sure to learn a down and gritty rendition of THAT classic…

Dave was Awsome. He had his share of Happiness and tragedy through life and left us with a legacy of his wonderful music played on the banjo in his own unique style. God bless Dave. For those unaware…Check out all his YouTube videos, there are loads to enjoy.

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Cool! Sounds like a blast.

Hello! I busk a lot, and I really enjoy it. I generally do not do the things people do to encourage passersby to give money–no case open, no hat or box or bucket or whatever out front. I dress nicely and dont scream at people. All this makes the cops more eager to tolerate me as someone who adds to the tourist draw rather than be an annoying panhandler. I’ve gotten several gigs this way and a lot of really good practice.