Annual Busker Festival to bring new acts, old favorites to downtown Lawrence this weekend

Attendees of this weekend’s Lawrence Busker Festival can expect the usual stunts, jokes and music, but should also be on the lookout for some new acts.

“I think we’ve got a nice mix of new performers and the usual performers — and yes, Mama Lou (Strongwoman) is going to be there,” said Richard Renner, the festival’s organizer. “So people will get to see some new things and check in on their favorites as well.”

The three-day festival brings about 25 street performers and musicians to five stages in downtown Lawrence for the weekend. The festival, now in its 11th year, begins Friday at 5 p.m. Returning acts to this year’s Busker Festival include hip-hop breakdancer Snap Boogie and Mama Lou Strongwoman, known for ripping phonebooks, breaking boards and crushing apples.

Renner said new performers include three international acts: a speed painter, magician, and a comedian slack rope walker. He said that the festival received a visiting artist grant from the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission that enabled it to bring in the performers.

The speed painter, Jon Hicks, brings his show from his native England and will have five performances throughout the weekend. Renner said that Hicks paints giant-sized portraits in less than 30 minutes, with an extra element of difficulty.

“He paints them all upside down, and you can’t really tell who they are until he finishes it at the end and then turns it right side up,” Renner said.

Another English performer, Gazzo, will bring his internationally traveled magic show to town. Renner said that Gazzo has been performing for decades and is well known worldwide among magicians. Gazzo, whose act includes sleight of hand tricks, will be performing all three days on his own stage in the 800 block of Massachusetts Street, according to the festival’s schedule.

The third international act coming to town is that of Pete Sweet, a comedian slack rope walker from Germany. Renner said that the performance includes Pete Sweet riding a unicycle across the slack rope and other clownish skills. Pete Sweet has six shows throughout the weekend.

Renner said that another new feature this year is circus alley, located in the breezeway in the 800 block of Massachusetts Street. Renner said that Lawrence’s own circus school, The Last Carnival, will be on hand for tricks and acrobatics, with a chance for residents to learn some tricks as well.

As in years past, the festival has also partnered with The Art Tougeau parade, which brings decorated and unusual vehicles to downtown. The decorated vehicles — Renner notes this year includes a banana car — will be on display Friday evening as part of a street party with live music and food trucks in front of the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St. The art car parade begins at noon on Saturday.

The Busker Festival begins Friday at 5 p.m. in downtown Lawrence and runs throughout the day on Saturday and Sunday. The festival’s full schedule and information about performers is available on the event’s website, lawrencebuskerfest.com.

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