Chilliwack buskers take over the streets

Violinist Hannes - Greg Laychak
Violinist Hannes
— image credit: Greg Laychak

Chilliwack is home to all kinds of talent, from acoustic to electric to dance and showmanship. You may be surprised, however, to see that talent on display this summer as 17 buskers take the downtown core by storm.

The variety swings from dixieland jazz to classical violin to street magic—and these are just three of the talented performers you might spot as you wander from Decades to the Bookman on a lazy summer afternoon in Downtown Chilliwack.

“Want to see a card trick?”

Perrin flicks cards between his fingers, shuffling and re-sorting, their box lying abandoned in the grass behind him.

“Want to see a card trick?” he asks a couple of pedestrians. Obligingly they stop, fascinated by the movement and the bright red deck.

“Pick a card,” he says.

Perrin does magic as a hobby in between playing hockey, studying physics, and working a summer job. He can’t always find time for it, but it’s something he comes back to in fits and starts, whenever he has a minute or two.

It started with a deck of cards, much like the one he’s holding now. After figuring out a couple of tricks, the magic moment happened when he showed some friends.

“I got this wonderful look of, ‘How the hell did you do that?’ on their faces,” he recalls. “It’s an addicting feeling.”

He spent last summer busking on Hornby Island at the farmers’ market, and decided to pick it up again when he found himself in Chilliwack this summer.

He admits it can sometimes be tough to gather any kind of crowd in downtown Chilliwack, but generally sets up at Saturday’s farmers’ market or Party in the Park to take advantage of foot traffic.

But even now, on one of the warmest days of the summer so far, he’s not doing too badly—the first pedestrians that pass agree to stop for a trick or two.

“Is this your card?” Perrin says, pulling one from the centre of a now-well-shuffled deck. The boy shakes his head slowly, not wanting to spoil the magician’s infective enthusiasm.

“Of course not,” Perrin says, as though it’s perfectly obvious, pulling another card out of thin air. “Because this is your card.”

His small audience laughs and claps, and he modestly shuffles the cards back into their box as they continue walking down sunny Wellington.


Boy meets violin

Hannes got his first taste of busking when he was just six years old.

“I guess he got hooked,” laughs his mother, Karin. “That kind of got him the bug, and he’s been doing it ever since. He loves it.”

Hannes, now age 10, is one of Chilliwack’s buskers this summer through the street entertainer program. He’s played the violin since he was just five years old, and his playing is peppered with a healthy dose of trills, vibrato, and double-stops—techniques that often take years to perfect.

“He pretty much knew as soon as he grabbed the violin that it was his thing. He never turned back,” Karin says.

Hannes is off-handed about the amount he practices, picking up the instrument whenever he has a spare minute or two.

“I usually play a half hour or an hour,” he says. “Sometimes it’s two hours. Sometimes it’s maybe ten minutes. It’s a little here and there.”

His music crosses genres between rock and classical, meaning Nirvana is just as likely to make an appearance as Beethoven.

But no matter what he plays, Hannes knows one thing for sure: one day he’s going to be a professional violinist.

“Unless I break my arm or something,” Hannes is quick to amend. “It’s good to do a lot of math so you have a good back-up if your arm breaks or something.”

“He’s young, so you never know—he might end up being an engineer or something,” Karin says with a smile. “But if people ask him what he’s going to be, he’s never said anything but violinist.”

This summer he’ll be practicing his skills in downtown Chilliwack—busking in a variety of locations along Wellington and making appearances at Party in the Park. And although Karin says Hannes can make a pretty good earning in just a couple of hours, it’s never been about the money for him.

“He shares it with charity always,” Karin says. “Half of the proceeds go straight to the Children’s Hospital.”

“It really helps a lot to make a change, right?” Hannes says. “For research, for cancer and stuff, it really helps. It really makes a difference.”


That old-school sound

If you wander along the sidewalks in Downtown Chilliwack this summer, you might think you’ve walked straight into the roaring ‘20s.

But that New Orleans sound floating through the air isn’t just a blast from the past; it’s the Curbside Traditional Jazz Band putting a bit of an old-school spring in your step.

“We’re party music from the ’20s,” band member Ben MacRae explains. “We played at barbecues, we played at brothels, we played at bars—that’s what our music comes from, even if that’s not what it is today.”

The traditional dixie-style band has seven members, ranging in age from 14 to 23 and boasting instruments from banjo to clarinet. They’ve won awards at national competitions and travelled south of the border as the only Canadian youth group at the Sacramento Music Festival.

They’ve even been invited to open a show in New York for jazz trumpet virtuoso Bria Skonberg, and hope to head out to the Big Apple in the spring.

Meanwhile, they’re playing here at home—busking for the summer and doing what they love. After all, the band was born out of what they have in common: a love a music, and a desire to make a career out of their passion.

Jazz, as they see it, is a universal language—something that resonates with old-timers and youngsters alike.

“It just appeals to a wide audience,” MacRae says. “Whether you’re two years old or 92 years old, it really does appeal to everyone.

“We have little kids dancing at all of our gigs, and they absolutely love the instruments, the sounds, the different feel it brings, the vaudeville, the jokes.”

The band has been together for about a year-and-a-half, and in that time they’ve played in retirement homes, community events—anywhere they have room to set up their instruments and get swinging. Busking this summer gives them exposure, a chance to practice, and maybe even a little pocket change—although they’re well aware they could make more flipping burgers for the summer.

“[It’s] not just for money,” MacRae says. “We sometimes play because it’s nice outside and we want to practice. We’re not shy!”

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