Fire-eaters, contortionists, musicians, magicians and countless other novelty acts transfixed thousands of onlookers in downtown Lawrence Friday night, as the sixth annual Busker Festival got underway.
Massachusetts Street regularly plays host to a variety of street performers, but only once a year does it come alive with renowned performing artists from across the country. With the scent of funnel cakes wafting through the air, downtown Lawrence is being transformed into a circus sideshow for the weekend.
Hundreds of people lined 8th Street Friday night, turning the block into a lively stage for one inspirational diva, Linsey Lindberg — known by her fans as “Mama Lou Strong Woman.” She tore phonebooks in half with ease and folded frying pans as if they were tortillas. Some children, too short to see behind four rows of standing adults, climbed on top of a nearby dumpster just to catch a glimpse of her incredible act.
“I love the immediacy and presence of performing on the street,” Lindberg said. “When you’re good like every performer here tonight, you connect with the audience all around you. I feel like I’m just standing in the center with all these strings extended out around me.”
After her performance, little girls and boys flexed their muscles for Mama Lou while their parents gave her compliments and $5 tips. A life-size wooden Mama Lou stood in the corner of the makeshift stage, and people of all ages popped their face through the cutout hole to add their heads to a picture of Mama Lou's body.
The crowd came to be entertained, but they left inspired by the woman who is more than just a captivating entertainer; she sees herself as a role model.
“Little girls want to look up to someone who is Barbie-pretty, but also doesn’t take sass from any man,” Lindberg said. “But little boys love Mama Lou, too. I feel like I’m changing a generation of young men, because when they see me, they believe that women are strong and they won’t forget it.”
A block away, on 7th Street, drummer Peter Rabbit rapidly beat his bright orange Home Depot buckets for a large crowd. Rabbit says the crowd’s reaction is a key reason he performs.
“It’s not about the money for me,” Rabbit said. “It’s about inspiring other artists everywhere.”
Rabbit has come a long way from his time drumming on the streets of New York City. At the age of 5, his brother set him up with a bucket and a drumstick on a corner in Times Square. He never looked back.
“It kept me out of trouble and it has brought me all over the world,” said Rabbit, now 28. “I’ve performed with Kanye West and been on Broadway, but I would do it in a basement if I had to.”
Rabbit has performed in the brightest of spotlights across the nation and throughout the world, but he says he has grown a strong appreciation for busker festivals over the past few years.
“There are a lot in Europe, but there are not too many in North America,” Rabbit said. “I could have been in Germany this week, but I came here to support the United States and build reputation for busker fests. If Kansas can have one, New York or Los Angeles can too."
Lindberg, a Kansas native who has taken her act to busker festivals from Singapore to Iceland, says the spirit of Lawrence’s audience is magical.
“It shocks me," she said. "I’m humbled by all the love that happens here.”
You can catch Mama Lou Strongwoman, Peter Rabbit and other world-renowned performers at the Busker Festival today from 2 p.m. to 10:15 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. For a complete schedule of performance times, visit http://lawrencebuskerfest.com/attend/attend_schedule.html#.