vinceconaway: (Default)
I've wrapped up the Italy leg of the tour and I'm off to Croatia!

This means that it's a good time to do some evaluation of how things are going so far. When I booked this tour I had five goals:

1. To find out how profitable Italy busking is in June
2. To spend a significant amount of time in my grandmother's region of Umbria
3. To find out how well Croatian busking goes after several years away
4. To make my first foray into Bosnia
5. To answer how well I can handle three months of touring as I enter middle age

It's obviously too soon to evaluate the Balkans, but Italy has been very educational. In the past my main touring season has been February-April, with limited exposure in January, May, and July. I've known better than to try August, when half of Italians go on vacation and the cities empty, and my July jaunt in 2009 taught me that the other half goes on vacation for that month and the cities likewise empty out, but June was an open question.

It is open no longer! I've been a little disappointed by my grosses for June, but far from troubled. Tips have been very good, but CD sales are significantly down from previous tours and from May. Also, the weekly schedule has changed, when Sundays go from being one of my best days to one of my worst. I have plans to adapt in the future, and the overall dynamic matches spring in Greece and summer in South America, but such a break from the familiar came as a bit of a shock.

My decision to focus on Umbria was delightfully successful. I had suspected that the lure of the beach might impact June busking elsewhere, so an inland region made sense. I also wanted to spend more time in Terni and Foligno, cities I'd briefly visited in years past, and to explore Orvieto for the first time. And, while CD sales have been down, I've had an amazing time in this incredibly beautiful area that was already ancient before the Romans showed up.

As for my endurance into my early forties, I've been pleased so far. While I have three more weeks to go and I've had a few signs of crispy burn out around the edges, I feel pretty solid. I'm not sure three-month tours should be a regular part of my schedule, as they also weren't in my thirties, but it's nice to think I've still got it in me!
vinceconaway: (Default)
Honestly, I'm kind of boring. I wake up around 6:30, spend a while puttering around online and reading a lot of news analysis, and hop into the shower around eight. I putter some more, head out, have breakfast at a cafe, and play for a few hours. I grab groceries on my way home, eat a lunch of bread, fruit, and lunch meat and/or cheese. I take a nap, and have an afternoon walk. I play another few hours in the evening before eating the remainder of my bread, fruit, lunch meat and/or cheese for supper, and take an evening stroll before curling up with a book.

On my day off, when I'm neither playing nor traveling, replace the music with more walks and museums. I don't do much that's really interesting, but I'm deeply thankful that I get to enjoy my routine in some really, really cool places.

Daily Life

Feb. 21st, 2017 04:11 pm
vinceconaway: (Default)
Living on the road is very different than vacationing. This is true in general, but especially when I'm traveling abroad.

I typically eat out of grocery stores, for example, even if I'm not doing the sort of light cooking that I do in the States. Eating out every day is not only detrimental to the budget, but brutal for health. It was important to acquire, early in my travels, the skill to pick up affordable picnic basics and build a long-term diet from staples such as bread, fruit, and cheese.

And then there is my daily schedule. I tend to work for 4 hours a day on those days when I'm playing, with five hours or so between my first and second sets. This leaves me part of the morning, midday, and the early evening to myself. I take a lot of rambling walks as my main recreation, but often I'll hit a museum or other tourist attraction in the afternoon. However, because of my schedule, there's typically only room for one.

It's by routines such as these that I've built a life for myself on the road, where it doesn't matter how frequently the scenery changes because the basic elements of my day rarely do.
vinceconaway: (Default)
Well, technically the halfway point was a few days ago, but I haven't really had the motivation to write recently. The trip is a real whirlwind, and I'm a little dizzy for it. I'm having a pretty great experience, though, and I'm quite pleased with how things are going. I'm already tentatively writing itineraries for future Chile tours, and I would like to make them a recurring part of my schedule.

There have been setbacks, of course. The PVC couplings I use for joints on my portable dulcimer stand weren't up to snuff, but I figured out a way to use tape on their insides to create a subtle fix. I'm rather pleased with that bit of ingenuity even as I'm a little miffed I hadn't thought to test the new setup before flying ten thousand miles with it.

I'm stressed, of course. Bus travel here is quite comfortable but a bit haphazardly organized. I haven't missed one yet, but I'm never confident until I'm on board and I've been confirmed that I'm in the right place. My language proficiency is stepping back for every step forward, and every day that I feel confident is matched by another day when I feel continually bewildered and lost. There's a race at my temples between my greying hair and receding hairline, and I always come back from overseas tours feeling like I've aged at an accelerated pace while I'm gone. But while I'm here, living on the balls of my feet and adapting to surprises, I feel very much alive. And if past is prelude, when I come home to familiar surroundings I'll feel incredibly powerful for having been away.


Jan. 30th, 2017 08:12 pm
vinceconaway: (Default)
I always appreciate when a child tips me from their own pocket, no matter how small the change. But today took the cake when a little girl tipped me from her own candy stash
vinceconaway: (Default)
I'm torn between disbelief that it's only been two weeks and that it's already been two weeks. I'm covering ground like I've never done before, changing cities every 3-4 days. It was a good choice based on my previous South American experience, where I was several times tripped up by local anti-busking regulations but then stuck for a week because the economics of a long bus ride and losing a room deposit were greater than potential busking profits. Still, it's starting to get tiring.

I think I may take the weekend off. I've had a remarkably successful time so far, and I've sold more than half my CDs less than a third into the tour. Valparaiso, Concepcion, Temuco, and Valdivia were all very good to me, and today I rolled into Villarica.

That trip is itself a bit of a tale, with a bus breaking down part way and an hourlong wait before another bus came along with standing room only. I'm rather pleased at how that came out, honestly, because it shows a lot of personal growth on my part. Earlier in my travel experiences I might have meekly accepted the word of my driver and waited for further instruction, but I was a little more insistent this time and it worked in my favour. As a bonus, after twenty minutes the guy seated beside me got off the bus, opening up the seat and leading to a delightful conversation with Marlena, a Chilean-American who was traveling to meet distant relatives.

So into Villarica I rolled, and it was an interesting experience. The city is lovely, though much smaller and more touristic than anyplace I've yet been. Most interestingly, from a professional point of view, the buskers I've grown accustomed to are entirely absent. After several cities where amplified bands are not uncommon street corner ornamentation, it seems a little odd not to have encountered a single one. This makes me a little hesitant to try my hand and, while in years past I've brazened my way into things with a philosophy of "ask forgiveness, not permission" I don't really want to push my luck. An interesting counterpoint to my experience on the bus.

And I do rather want a break. I'm ahead of my projections, and while I embrace an attitude of "make hay when the sun is shining", I'm about to spend ten of the next fourteen days in now-familiar territory that has been good to me. It may be time to catch my breath for a bit.
vinceconaway: (Default)
It has been a truly wonderful day, performing in Concepcion for the first time. The city is built for busking, and is filled with buskers, but despite their numbers and their amplification I found ample spaces to perform. I had a lot of fun and did quite well for myself, but at the end of the day one memory stands out.

A little girl, maybe six years old, had been handed money by her parents to toss into my hat. I thanked her and made my typical half bow, and she responded with an absolutely florid bow in return. I've been grinning about it ever since.
vinceconaway: (Default)
I'm booked through July, here's where you can find me!

January 10 - March 7
Busking tour of South America (Santiago de Chile, Valparaiso, Concepcion, Temuco, Valdivia, Villarrica, Vina del Mar, Antofagasta, Calama, Arica, Cusco, and Lima)

March 12 - 16
Gulf Wars (SCA)
Hattiesburg, MS

March 17 - April 9
Sherwood Forest Faire
Bastrop, TX

May 2 - July 27
Busking tour of Europe (Genoa, Vicenza, Cremona, Modena, Orvieto, Gubbio, Foligno, Pisa, Dubrovnik, Mostar, Sarajevo, Split, Rijeka, Ljubljana)

July 30 - August 4
Pennsic War (SCA)
Slippery Rock, PA
vinceconaway: (Default)
I've solidified my Chile tour details! I spent a few hours last week with my guidebook and previous research, and I strung together a bunch of cities and dates in a way that looks like a feasible tour. My Patreon patrons got to see this last week, since they're a big help in keeping me on the road, but I'm excited to share details with the general public!

January 10: depart Cleveland

January 11: arrive Santiago de Chile

January 12: arrive Valparaiso and the real beginning of the tour

Janaury 16: travel south to Concepcion

January 19: Temuco

January 23: Valdivia (northern edge of Patagonia)

January 26: Villarica

Janaury 30: back in Concepcion

February 2: back in Valparaiso

February 6: Vina del Mar

February 9: third weekend in Valparaiso (the city was the highlight of my 2014 South America tour and a big reason I chose Chile)

February 13: travel north to Copiapo

February 16: Calama

February 20: Iquique (I know I can't busk there because of city law, but the place looks stunning)

February 23: Arica

February 28: Cuzco, Peru

March 2: Day trip, Macchu Picchu and happy birthday to me!

March 4: Lima

March 7: 2am departure back to Cleveland

I'm getting really excited!
vinceconaway: (Default)
I've written about my first trip to South America when I went to Buenos Aires on vacation and missed my dulcimer the whole time. In 2014 I went back as a busker, and had an amazing experience.

I hit Buenos Aires, Montevideo (Uruguay), Rosario, San Luís, Córdoba, and Mendoza, plus I dashed across the Andes to briefly visit Santiago de Chile before hitting that country's cultural capital, Valparaiso. I fell in love with Valparaiso and had a really fulfilling experience, but I lost my shirt.

My biggest issue was that South America is really big. Most of my busking has been done in Europe, which is remarkably compact. In Italy, if one city doesn't work I'm within a reasonable train ride of another city I can try, even as repeated day trips if I've prepaid my lodging. In South America that doesn't fly, and it was a better financial decision to eat the loss than to wrack up bigger bills to roll the dice again.

So, when a cop would tell me I was not allowed to busk, I was basically up the creek until I was scheduled to move on. This lead to some really great experiences, but as I said I lost a lot of money on the trip. I'm taking those lessons into account as I plan another South America expedition.

I'm booking a lot more cities, so instead of a week in each place I will spend 3-4 days. It will be a much more hectic travel schedule, but lessens my risk from individual cities not working out (even if I'm busted everywhere I go I'll still get 2-3 days of playing a week). I've done my homework and none of these cities have regulations regarding buskers, but that means nothing when an individual cop decides he doesn't like what you're doing.

I'm also looking to bring some CDs with me. Lacking CDs would have been manageable if more cities had worked out for tips, but they significantly improve profitability and could have helped me with my limited playing time. Also, Argentina has serious trade barriers but Chile has a free-trade agreement with the US, so that will be a huge help as well.

Finally, I'm budgeting with the idea in mind that I'll lose my shirt. Rather than projected grosses, I'm planning on minimal income so that anything above that will be a bonus. Losing money wasn't my problem in 2014, losing money I couldn't afford was my problem.

I'm excited and nervous and can't believe how quickly the dates are approaching!
vinceconaway: (Default)
It started with a simple question among friends: do you consider yourself a SCAdian?

For those who don't know, the term refers to a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, or SCA, and my answer was equivocal: "yes, but with an asterisk".

Identity is a very tricky beast for me, especially since I've woven my own from many disparate strands. There are very few identifiers that I ascribe myself unconditionally, while claiming each as a part of my whole self. Rennie? Asterisk. Busker? Asterisk. North American? Asterisk (growing up among certain Old World Italian rituals left me with a sense of otherness).



The one label to which I could wholeheartedly ascribe, through the course of the conversation, was artist. Part of that is the vagueness of the term itself, but more probably lies in my longstanding efforts to embrace the term. "Artist" is so culturally loaded that I spent years adapting and shaping my conception of the label until I could embrace it as my own.

Apparently those exertions worked, and I can't decide whether I need to expand my efforts to other characterizations or to accept that I'm neither fish nor fowl in the other dimensions.

I'm leaning toward acceptance.

A good day

Jul. 10th, 2016 08:09 pm
vinceconaway: (Default)
It wasn't a great day, but it was far from a bad one. I'm busking the ByWard market in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, and today's highlight was a large group of middle-school kids, early in the day, who clustered around and listened to both to the music and my explanations of it. Not only were they intent and asking good questions, but they were surprisingly generous tippers. A definite win!
vinceconaway: (Default)
After a month of being stressed about money, my accounting says I nailed my target!

It's been a doozy of a trip: I've had an amazing experience, but it's driven my anxiety through the roof. Two weeks before I was due to go to Bologna, a city which has been very good to me in the past, I found out they passed a new anti-busking regulation. My back up, Padua, has also recently passed such legislation. I switched my plan to Perugia, another city that has been good to me in the past, only to run into different problems with polizia who acknowledged I was right on the law but shifted me anyway. Plus it's been a wet and chilly spring, which has been problematic in general.

On the good side of the ledger, I took a calculated and successful risk to play Prato and Pistoia, cities where I've had difficulties in the past but have since liberalized their busking policies. I got some grief in Prato, but I pulled out my phone with a PDF version of the regulations and for the first time in my career won an argument with the law (she said she'd come back to discuss it and I never saw her again).

Ultimately, I can't argue with a positive result and it's not unusual for me to feel I've aged an entire year in a few months of busking. I love it, and it inspires me even as it physically and emotionally exhausts me. I'm torn between being ready to come home and never wanting to leave, but as I tally the numbers I know that I'll be coming back soon.

The plan is already taking shape.
vinceconaway: (Default)
Change terrifies me, until it thrills me. This is frequently my pattern, a sharp panic attack followed by an invigorating hunt for opportunity.

Recently two of my favourite busking cities, Padua and Bologna, passed harsh regulations that take them off my circuit. This continues a recent trend, as Rome, Ravenna, and several other cities have also recently cracked down. I started thinking about limiting my exposure to Italy (I've been yearning to go back to Croatia), or even cutting back on my European travel.

Then Wednesday I had a run in with a Perugia polizia who acknowledged that I was right on the regulations but said my playing could potentially disrupt nearby government offices (although he cited no complaints). I wasn't completely unprepared: as a contingency plan I had originally booked lodging equally (in)convenient to both Perugia's historic center and to the train station, so I'm well-placed for local commuting. Still, it was a further blow to my confidence.

The combined setbacks, however, have unleashed a flurry of creative energy as I research and plan future trips. Rather than cutting back on Italy, I may even expand. Every step back holds the potential for a leap forward, and I am relentless when it comes to seizing opportunities.

The rush

Apr. 18th, 2016 04:22 pm
vinceconaway: (Default)
I just rolled into Pescara, where I played a few sets eight years ago but haven't done much since. I stopped by for a layover in recent years, though, and decided it deserves a second shot so I'm walking the streets with two days off before I play again, seeing potential everywhere.

It's an exhilarating feeling, and one of the reasons I keep coming back to Italy and, more broadly, a reason I'm an entrepreneurial musician. Seeing potential and bringing it to life make my heart pound as I seize whatever opportunities pass my way.

It may be great and it may be crap, but this part here is what I live for.


Apr. 12th, 2016 10:14 pm
vinceconaway: (Default)
I'm glad I'm on a little weekend* break; I had an anxiety attack of all the things that could go wrong, which lasted about a day, even after so many tours doing exactly this. It could all go pear-shaped at any minute, and now that the panic has worn off I'm finding a headspace open to possibility rather than terror.

It's never not a leap of faith.

*performers get "weekends" Monday-Tuesday, which does interesting things to our social lives.
vinceconaway: (Default)
When I started playing in Italy I would play 11 90-minute sets every week. Now I'm down to 8, but they're over two hours. As my repertoire has expanded I've gotten comfortable playing longer, and it's really nice to have three days free every week (I play two sets a day).

I started out playing 11 sets because it was a grand experiment: if I found that playing was prohibited I wanted to lose a Wednesday, not a Saturday. After ten years, however, much of my schedule is familiar territory and there's no need to push myself. Plus, by taking it easy and being well rested, I can ramp up when the crowds are better and be more efficient.

It took years for my work ethic to be ok with that.
vinceconaway: (Default)
That's all there are, in the moment, to choose a course of action. It's not a hard and fast rule and I made the number up, but the length of one deep breath is what I had to work with. I saw the boy pull money out of my hat, I saw him hide it, and I made eye contact.

I chose to do nothing.

It wasn't worth my time to raise a fuss over €2, though I took careful note of his hand to keep my accounting accurate. I'm ashamed to say I was curt with his age cohort for a short while afterwards, but performing for and winning over young people is one of my great joys and I recovered fairly quickly. I refuse to let one bad apple spoil my evening, and looking back I made the right call.

But I memorized his face and I'll take care not to give him a second opportunity.
vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)
Today I'm going to do my first street performing since the weekend. Normally I do a lot more of it in Minneapolis, but right now my time is better spent researching and rehearsing new music since I go into the studio in December. Happily, I've made wonderful progress, with a finalized track listing and only five or six pieces left to learn. It also helps that I left the easiest music for last.

So that's what I'm up to: visiting friends, playing a bit to keep some cash flowing, and getting all my ducks in a row to complete the two-year process that recording entails.

It's Pisa

Apr. 13th, 2015 07:52 pm
vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)
"Please don't let it be Pisa"

That was my refrain through years of searching for a Tuscan pitch. On my first trip to Italy, I compared Pisa to Siena, Lucca, Florence, and Rome and found the city wanting. I wrote it off as a pretty piazza surrounded by an ugly city and left it at that.

Meanwhile, I engaged in a personal quest to find a busking pitch in Tuscany. Thwarted at every turn (Florence, Siena, Lucca, Pistoia, Prato, Viareggio, and Livorno), I eventually had success in Arezzo until the city passed a new anti-busking law in 2013.

So the quest was on again.

Meanwhile, I'd developed a template for good busking cities. Thriving universities are a huge help, full of my best demographics of students, professors, and young families. I've also gotten better at sussing out legal regulations before experimenting (growing proficiency in Italian has helped), and both pointed towards Pisa as a potential goldmine.

So I came back. And I found the city to be beautiful.

Pisa is certainly no Siena or Florence, but it's in the upper echelon of pretty places I've seen. I'd missed the loveliest part of the medieval core on my last visit, and a broader basis for comparison was a much gentler standard.

It's much prettier than Arezzo, for example.

The busking has been good, the city a pleasure to visit, and I'm already incorporating it into potential future itineraries.

Now I'm in Modena and back on familiar ground. The time for experimentation is over, and the final three weeks are in cities that have previously been good to me. The adventures continue!

August 2017

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