In Charleston, singing on the side of the street for tips is fairly common. In fact, it’s possible to make more than a few bucks busking in the downtown streets — especially in the touristy hot spots in nice weather. The best busking spots tend to be popular public places with large volumes of foot traffic, high visibility, low background noise, and few distractions. Downtown, this means along the Market, the waterfront parks, and King, Meeting, and Calhoun streets.
Singer/songwriters can strum through original tunes or jam on popular classics. Drummers can show off their technical skills, stick-flipping tricks, and marching band rudiments on buckets or other cylinders. Horn players can meander musically from a Coltrane melody to the theme of The Flintstones and back.
Amiable tourists and shoppers are known to tip buskers decently — and those tips can add up to more than just beer money. The most successful street performers know how to work a crowd, encourage audience participation, collect tips, and toss a bit of humor and novelty into the act.
In compliance with city laws, you must obtain a “peddler’s permit” from the Business License office, located on the third floor at 75 Calhoun Street. The requirements include a completed application submitted with credentials establishing the “exact relationship between the applicant and his employer,” information pertaining to criminal records, and a recent photograph “showing the head and shoulders of the applicant in a clear and distinguishing manner.” There’s a $7 application fee, and an annual permit fee is $64.24. Busking without a proper permit could result in a $500 fine and up to $1,035 court costs, so be careful.
Busking takes nerve, heart, people skills, and a bit of unique talent, but it’s an adventurous option for enthusiastic musicians.