Busking through Juneau

Posted: Sunday, August 22, 2010

Last Tuesday night, Laura Casey stood on the corner of South Franklin St. across from the clock, strumming her guitar and singing her heart out. A hand-written sign next to her guitar case said, "Need money for gas and ferry food." Tourists and locals dropped money in her guitar case as they walked by. Casey had about $40 in her case that night.

Erik Stimpfle / For The  Juneau Empire
Erik Stimpfle / For The Juneau Empire

She was visiting Juneau on her way to Inuvik, Canada. She was not a stranded traveler who had run out of money. In fact, she is a seasoned street musician who lives and travels in her car and practices the art of busking - the term for street musicians who play for donations.

Casey, 25, started busking on Canada's street corners eight years ago. She left Moncton, New Brunswick, at 17 after leaving a note telling her parents that she was hitchhiking to Montreal. She ended up homeless and living under a bridge in Toronto. When asked about being homeless, Casey said it was by choice.

"I made the choice; I wanted to experience life from that side so that I wouldn't hold stereotypes or falsely judge people," she said. "I wanted to enlighten myself and expose (myself) to both sides of the world."

She discovered busking as a way to make money.

"I didn't like panhandling; I found it degrading," she said. "Somebody had a guitar and they sold it to me for 50 bucks. I didn't know how to tune it or string it. I would play one chord and sing horribly about how I needed money for guitar lessons and people would give me money out of pity."

Eight years later, Casey is still singing and traveling. She no longer hitchhikes but travels by car now. This was her first time in Juneau. In one summer she crossed Canada three times.

"When I get into a city, I use Friday and Saturday night to make my major cash flow," she said. "If I can't make enough then I just leave and busk at random gas stations to fill my gas tank as I go."

She prefers to play for bar crowds and has an unconventional method. Bar patrons shout out a word, and she improvises a song on the spot.

Casey boots her income by selling two CDs that she recorded. Her second, "Lower Classy," has 13 songs that she improvised, complete with rhythmic guitar and original lyrics. They are songs about life and her observations. She doesn't do cover tunes - only original songs that she sings in a resonant and melodic voice.

When asked about her future music career, Casey replied, "Busking is good enough for now. If an opportunity comes a knocking and it allows me to stay myself, I'll explore it but I'm not going to hold my breath."

While In Juneau, Casey had her purse stolen from a bar. She later found it in alley after several hours of searching. Her camera was gone but she did manage to retrieve her car keys. It would have been costly to lose those keys, but she was undeterred and preferred to talk about her good experiences.

"People are phenomenal," she said. "I believe in being a good person, and I believe that's why people are so kind to me. I've had people give me their house keys. I've had people pay my way to the next town. People are so good but I think it's because they see that I'm good."

Laura Casey has a fan page on Facebook for those that want to learn more about her music and travels.

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