Busking in Venice Beach

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With 14 million tourists gawking through our inviting free speech zone of Venice Beach each year, we are a magnet for buskers – aka street performers – looking to reach new audiences and make a few bucks with their talents. But just because all of the world is a stage doesn’t mean you should be on it!

There are only a small handful of tolerable musicians on the boardwalk, and fewer that deserve mention.

The Piano Man, as I call him, is a soulful musician with a savant’ style. Each morning he wheels out a grand piano from his apartment and sets up shop in front of The Sidewalk Cafe.

He elicits standing ovations and tears from the crowd with his folkloric renditions, such as Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.” That song being performed, on that boardwalk, by those guys, it is so grimy and raw. It’s about as real as it gets.

Local Love: We have performers in the neighborhood that are major assets to the community, like Vinnie Caggiano, eclectic guitarist and local Venetian for 20 plus years. His electro classical remixes of songs like “Strawberry Fields Forever,” will put one into a surreal, OMG! I live in the coolest place on the planet kinda’ mood.

Vinnie Caggiano, a Venetian of more than 20 years, says he would rather busk outside a café on Westminster for less money than deal with the craziness of the Boardwalk. Photos by Gabrielle Lee
Vinnie Caggiano, a Venetian of more than 20 years, says he would rather busk outside a café on Westminster for less money than deal with the craziness of the Boardwalk. Photos by Gabrielle Lee

“I’m not a mercenary,” says Vinnie. “I sat here yesterday and made $10 when I could have made $80 on the Boardwalk! There is no way I’m gonna put my self through that!”

Instead, he plays outside side of a jumpin’ cafe on Westminster. With CDs for sale and his business cards on a little table, it’s a way to promote himself as a teacher and performer. He gave me a mini lesson on the spot. His eyes lit up from behind red sunglasses as his soul oozed love of guitar, teaching and sharing his gift. This is what its all about!

Exceptional talent like Vinnie would be the rule if the Venice Beach community were to have our way.

“I’d really like to see the caliber of the talent on the boardwalk go up,” says Vinnie. “I laughed thinking back to earlier in the week when I was speaking with some non-local street performers who were trying to hustle up a quick buck.”

Talent Pit Stop: “Am I in the right spot? What time do the crowds come?” The un-initiated have a steep learning curve. The Venice Boardwalk just chews them up and spits them right out. It is an intense river of energy that can be daunting for non-local and unsuspecting visitor who is more likely to have their valuables ripped off than they are to make bank while here…and that can happen within their first five minutes of setting up!

I met Andre, a 20-year-old guitarist, on Rose Ave. earlier this week.

Amidst his homelessness, Andre toggles back and forth between St. Joes shelter at night and the Boardwalk during the day.

“You either play for God or money,” Andre says. “I play for God.”

However, when asked if I could take his picture for Yo! Venice, he wanted money.

In my opinion, performers like Andre are not assets, just ass wipes. This city has to take you in, not you force yourself on us!

Email Gabrielle at [email protected]

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