When I went off to Austria I continued playing music on the street because I was in serious need of money. I was preparing to go to a flute competition in Budapest that required a bunch of solo flute music, so I sometimes even played alone. One day while I was playing on the street in Graz, an art student drew this portrait of me. Then she went away for a little while and returned with a whole bunch of brightly-colored chalk, and drew the same portrait on the sidewalk itself. When I moved to Vienna, the Kartnerstrasse became my new "work place." I played there every day with a Finnish bassoonist, and we did quite well for ourselves until it started to get cold. People photographed us all the time, and I'm sure that many tourists thought that what they were hearing were Austrian musicians. I really had the time of my life.
When I returned to New York after being in Europe I tried playing on the street again. It wasn't the same. The "hot" venue was now Columbus Avenue on the upper west side. I do remember having a great time playing with a violinist named Jenny Nilsen, who I believe is now married to Garrison Keillor, but street playing had already become a fixture of New York life and was no longer the kind of novelty it had been a few years earlier. People were walking around with Sony Walkmans (Walkmen?) in their ears, and it seemed that in order to be successful you needed to have some kind of act, shtick, or ballyhoo in order to grab people's attention. Eventually people started getting permits and using amplification. Now they even sell CDs.
Playing on the street in Boston in the 1980s was also interesting. The place to play was Harvard Square, and securing a place on the square with some protection from wind and traffic noise was difficult. I remember one particularly difficult evening when I had gotten a great spot in front of the Harvard Coop. My busking companions and I were probably playing Haydn or Mozart, and we were totally blown out of the auditory waters by a Klezmer band. I believe that group was what now has become the Klezmer Conservatory Band.
I haven't played on the street for a long time, and as a string player I don't think I would want to expose my instrument to the elements the way I did as a flutist. When I hear someone play on the street who plays well, I always stop, listen, and try to remember what it was like when I played on the street in a more innocent time. A time when hearing someone play un-amplified music in an unexpected place was a moment of serendipity.