Young buskers bring merriment to Vancouver Farmers Market

By Katie Gillespie, Columbian Education Reporter

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The Vancouver Farmers Market is a symphony of sound from the moment you enter to the moment you leave.

Aside from the official entertainment set up in the market’s seating area, there’s also an eclectic band of entertainers stationed at each market entrance and yet another act performing at the central roundabout.

There are drummers and dancers, children with keyboards propped up on five-gallon buckets, women strumming ukuleles and the occasional thread of classical music from string or wind instrument players. These buskers — a British slang word for street performers — are staples of the Vancouver Farmers Market, and one market manager Nathan Meiffren-Swango says rounds out the market experience.

“They bring a lot of energy to the market, especially to the corners we want our customers to visit,” Meiffren-Swango said.

And, while their talents are diverse, many of the youngest performers have something in common: a sign propped up reading, “Saving for college. Anything helps.”

On a recent sunny Saturday, Jack Spadolini was strumming his guitar and singing familiar soft-rock tunes by Jack Johnson and Jason Mraz.

Spadolini has been singing and playing guitar since he was 6, the now-18-year-old Camas High School graduate said. He performs and works at his church, Grace Foursquare Church in Camas, and is traveling to Australia next year to work at a church music program.

“I discovered I really love doing music,” he said. “I made a lot of friends with a lot of people there, and they helped me grow.”

The farmers market has been a longtime stage for Spadolini, who first signed up to perform at 14. In the years since, the population of performers has grown from three to a wide variety of acts, he said.

Spadolini plans to use the money he’s raised on his trip to Australia and later on to attend college.

“We’re not trying to sell them anything. We’re just out there to contribute to the atmosphere,” he said. “From what I’ve seen, it definitely puts a smile on people’s faces.”

On the other end of the musical spectrum, Dawn Carter and her children performed classical tunes in a string quartet — Carter and her 12-year-old daughter Jessica on violin, 15-year-old Isabelle on viola and 12-year-old Jackson on cello.

The family has been playing at the farmers market for about seven years, Carter said, after a music teacher recommended she bring the children — who were toddlers at the time — to perform so they could become accustomed to playing in front of a crowd. Carter, concertmaster of the Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra, said in that time, her children have gone from playing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” to chamber music.

“It’s such a great place for kids to get used to playing in front of an audience,” Carter said. “It makes them feel like, ‘Oh, what I do is valuable.’ ”

Violinist Jessica hopes to go to The Juilliard School and has the brightly decorated sign to prove it. “Raising money for lessons and orchestra!” reads a pink and blue sign propped up in a violin case. “Your help is so appreciated!!!”

“I think it’s really great for other people to listen to classical music if they don’t get to listen to classical music very often,” Jessica said.

In nearby Esther Short Park, the thumping sounds of Vancouver band SaxHouse reverberate as passers-by stop to watch. Max Mylin performs on tenor saxophone, while his friend Ryan Ceja echoes him on baritone saxophone. Gabe Reynolds, on a bass drum jury-rigged with cowbells and woodblocks, provides the group’s rhythm.

The three teenagers began performing together at the encouragement of their band teacher at Hudson’s Bay High School, Craig Bunch. Mylin and Ceja graduated this spring but remain passionate about jazz music. Their funky tunes are improvised on the spot, giving the group a unique style that changes depending on the crowd’s reaction.

“A few weeks ago … some people were walking by, and they didn’t seem to really engage in what we were doing. So Ryan and I made eye contact and together picked it up, and tried to make it more exciting for people going by,” Mylin said.

Though not technically buskers — the band sets up in front of the statue of the Pioneer Mother — the group nonetheless has benefited from passing foot traffic. They usually raise between $40 and $70 on weekends and have used the money to buy new equipment or improve what they already have. They were recently tapped for a paid performance at the a Hough Foundation charity event.

And, with luck for the Vancouver teenagers, this stage is only the beginning.

“We’re hoping to take it as far as possible and eventually play in as many places across the country as possible,” Mylin said.