Wooden nickels have very limited usage. Novelty bar token. Actual currency replacement in times of extreme economic depression. And Long Beach’s Buskerfest. That’s pretty much it, and barring a regrettable appearance at a drinking establishment you found on Groupon or an early Trump presidency, wooden nickels will be in circulation in exactly one place this Saturday and that is Downtown Long Beach for the 8th edition of Buskerfest.
The annual music competition taking place in Long Beach’s East Village showcases local bands ditching their electric gear and playing stripped down stylings of their tunes, that’s where the “busking” part comes in, hoping to earn wooden nickels from attendees. Wooden nickels = votes, and the band with the most nickels at the end of the night take home a prize that will help the band take the next step in their music career (past prizes have included studio time and vinyl pressings).
This year’s crop of competing bands ranges in style from jazz to post-punk with Americana, indie and folk mixed in as well. For those who like to know a little more before they cast their all important wooden nickel vote, we caught up with each band competing at Buskerfest. Here’s what we learned.
Sounds like: Soulful, groovy rock and roll.
Why they’re stoked for Buskerfest: “The street performance aspect of this that removes many modern electronic elements as a focus in the show. There is something of a vibrant, trampy magic about playing with only the street, an audience and our bare musical wits.” - Rob Graveley and Danny Cadiz
Sounds like: One-woman band playing outlaw country backed by a steel guitar. #SaloonJams
On why she became a musician: “It was either this or stripping” – Betty Rose
Sounds like: Trio making post punk you can dance to. Punk with an art degree.
Why they’re excited for Buskerfest: “Mostly having to switch things up. We haven’t really
played a stripped down set like this before. Some friendly competition is always fun too.” – Kevin Modry
Dave Williams & MBT (MajicBulletTheory)
Sounds like: A spicy jazz, funk, and hip-hop fusion. The soundtrack to an acid trip.
On their sound: Though they may be an instrumental group, Williams says, “This isn’t ‘Dad’ music, unless your dad is really hip.”
Sounds like: Melodic indie rock. Slam poetry with guitars.
On finding their sound: “When we got together, we never set out to create a certain type of sound or follow a specific template. There has never been a preset expectation of what 'our sound’ should be. We jam and each bring in our own elements and the ideas/ influences/ affinities that inform them to conceive our beautiful, breathing lovechild. It flows naturally.” – Esther Kang
Sounds like: Folkestra (folk + orchestra). 10+ band members all playing in harmony.
In their words: “The idea of a busking festival is just so cool. I started busking when I was 14 down at the Huntington Beach pier with a guitar and a kick drum made out of a suitcase. You meet a lot of great people and other musicians playing on the streets; it’s nice to see it cultivated in a big event like this.” - Jake Abernathie
Sounds like: Indie-pop with four of the five members sharing vocal duties. A band that Barb from Stranger Things would be super into.
On preparing for Buskerfest: “We’ve given our songs new acoustic arrangements that include…wait for it…flute.” – Allegra Rosenburg
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Sounds like: Duo playing old school country, blues and rock with some twang for good measure. Also sometimes jazz.
On playing Buskerfest: “Our Buskerfest strategy is to keep it simple and raw. In the spirit of busking, we will not be plugging anything into a power source, so all of our equipment will be rigged off of portable power supplies that we have built. We won't be hiding behind effects, and we want to throw it back to the musicians who used to have to perform with much more constraints before modern technology.” – Kelsey Landazuri
Sounds like: Americana / folk with a desert twist. Road trip tunes.
Goals for Buskerfest: “Hopefully I can get someone to click with just one song, one story they identify with. I want to connect and have an experience with the audience.” – Rich Shelley