Saint Stephen's Green, perhaps the busiest area in all of Dublin, Ireland, is a fantastic place to hear live music, most particularly from the top of Grafton Street down to College Green. Up and down Grafton Street, there are 5 different spots where buskers will play. If you're brave enough and acquire the proper permits, you, too, could have an hour time slot and play for the public shopping and strolling along this most popular Dublin tourist venue.
Grafton Street is uniquely valuable to buskers as it's a long, pedestrian-only, heavily tourist-populated area in the largest city in the country. I've heard estimates as high as 9,000 pedestrians an hour passing along Grafton, making it one of the busiest streets in all of Europe.
Several people that started busking on Grafton Street have become social media sensations including Marie Keane, Declan Walsh, Padraig Cahill, and Allie Sherlock who went on to play on the Ellen DeGeneres show and, on-site today, Zoe Clarke displayed her brilliant voice with popular tunes and covers. I had to financially support this singer. For me, if I stay for more than a song, I'm going to be placing bills in their guitar case. I like that she has her social media accounts available for us to follow her on Instagram, youtube, and Facebook.
And at the bottom of Grafton Street, a gentleman singing in Spanish, Gus Eclesia. I don't hear Spanish often, despite the close relationship Ireland shares historically with Spain. It's very soothing.
It got me thinking, of course, about the term "busker" and what it takes to busk on Grafton Street in Dublin. I took a tour with Alternative Dublin's Eoin (American pronunciation "Owen"), and he provided some insight. During our tour, we heard buskers at the Molly Malone statue, a few places in Temple Bar, but mostly on Grafton Street.
The term "busker" comes from the Spanish word "buscar," or "to seek." It was taken by the British in the 1860s and came to represent performers who solicited money for playing in public venues, like street corners or public transportation spots.
In the "old days," I can remember being told busking is a form of begging. While money is requested, it feels like busking should be held separately for the performance and entertainment value they add. I definitely enjoy walking down Grafton Street. As the music from one performer ends, the other begins.
Eoin explained how that happens. The city is very serious about noise control. Buskers are only allowed to operate from 11 am to 11 pm. "There are only 5 spots on the street to perform. You must have a license and you play for one hour, starting at the top of the hour, in your spot. You must keep the noise level down to 90 dB or risk losing your license."
Yes, in Dublin, licenses from the Dublin City Council are required to busk, for both performances and for amplification. And yes, buskers do pay taxes. By the time they deduct their expenses, though, they may not pay more than the contribution to the national health insurance. I've not found an accurate account of what the buskers actually earn, only comments like "I made more in an hour on Grafton Street than I did in a day (somewhere else)." I'm certain the revenue department is aware. It seems like €100 is a good day. The average donation is €2 - €3 and more if you stay for a longer portion of that artist's set.
They do have a two-week temporary license if you want to visit and give it a shot.
Buskers include musicians, mimes, poets, and unicyclists.
Eoin told us that, while Bono and U2 aren't particularly popular in Dublin because of their use of local tax advantages, U2 became an "overnight sensation" after going viral during a performance at Clarendon Road and St. Stephen's Green. It's not uncommon for Bono to come busk for charity on Grafton Street.
He also tells us that we'll see more female buskers than prior years. The Irish government has taken seriously the "You can't be what you don't see" and wants to promote women's accomplishments in the arts. Allie Sherlock and Zoe Clarke are great examples of young women successfully displaying their talent in this format.
Did you know?
There are several famous artists that started as buskers. Rod Stewart sang on the streets of London. Tracy Chapman busked with permission in Harvard Square. Jewel began busking in Michigan, starting with her dad when she was a child. Pierce Brosnan made money as a fire eater in London. Ed Sheeran busked across England.
Eoin's recommendations for places to experience live music in addition to Grafton Street:
Whelan's Bar in Dublin 2 on Camden Street
Cobblestone Club in Smithfield (Dublin 7)
Fibber McGee's (more emo)