21 May 2010

Friday flicks: the best street musicians in Amsterdam

I was surprised by Amsterdam's relative lack of good street musicians--most were half-stoned backpackers strumming beat-up guitars and slurring out Bob Marley's greatest hits, or wheezing into a didgeridoo.* 

Of all the cities on our itinerary, I had expected Amsterdam to have the liveliest street life, and the widest range of living statues and jugglers and mimes and musicians. But there really weren't that many, and those we did find were, as a rule, atrocious--like the world's creepiest, least-coordinated Michael Jackson impersonator, who stood outside our hotel most days. Alas, I took no video of him (I didn't want to feel obliged to give him money). 

But I do have a video of some musicians who made up for their less-talented peers. This group, from Spain, was good--transcendently good--particularly the clarinetist. 

Incidentally, I think that street performers are one of the benefits of tourism. Yes, there are performers in random parks and streets all over the world. But crowds attract performers, and some of them--like this band, or the various entertainers at Mallory Square in Key West--are mesmerizingly talented. If you want good, cheap entertainment, seek out the places with great street performers--seek out the beaten path.

* I saw at least two or three didgeridoo-playing backpackers in each city (including a duet in Vienna), and always found the sight both laudable and laughable. That's a heck of an instrument to lug around for weeks or months at a stretch, so kudos for the audacity and determination required to do so. But really: why? A guitar I can kind of understand; a recorder or something that fits in your pocket makes even more sense. But a huge horn that is not particularly melodic and which you, dear backpacker, clearly don't even know how to play? That I will never comprehend. (Although I will state, for the record, that I think the didgeridoo does sound kinda cool. For the first 90 seconds.) 

Okay, granted, I suppose it's conceivable that you, white American backpacker, have played the didgeridoo all your life, starting on the mini-ridoo when you were a toddler, jamming with your high school buddies in your parents' garage, showing off your skills at the college talent show, getting in on the retro music craze with a didgeridoo-wop swing band, maybe playing a hymn or a Beatles ballad at your friend's wedding. It's not impossible.  Or ... Did you recently decide to start playing (and hauling) it because this particular instrument--more than, say, a tuba or an oboe or the similarly-shaped Alp horn--has all kinds of fascinating cultural connotations and is an ideal symbol of how you're a true citizen of the world, deeply aware of indigenous traditions across the globe? (... With whom you're currently hanging out in spirit, even if you it appears that you are, in fact, sitting smack in the heart of tourist territory.)   

(Sorry, I'm in an especially snarky mood today. I've been reading The Tourist.)

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