Crowd at Buskerfest 2014 (photo by Lonnie Nguyen)
East Village Arts District
Saturday, September 6, 2014
For the last five iterations of Long Beach’s annual summer-ending music festival Buskerfest, the free event featuring local musicians duking it out for the most wooden nickels has strayed farther and farther from the actual acoustic busking that incited its founding.
Eventual winners Bearcoon, though, stole the night with an infectious stage dynamic and improvised set of Southern-inspired songs that made the most out of their stage’s technical difficulties and reflected the duo’s real life support for one another. Guitarist Andrea Walker and singer Solange Igoa met two years ago, started dating and then began performing together at open mic nights across Long Beach. Their musical chemistry was undeniable–Walker’s freshly minted songs about sadness and loss paired perfectly with Igoa’s powerful vocals.
At Buskerfest, the two grinned ear to ear and bantered sweetly with the crowd, getting only a few songs in before realizing that one of the microphones was broken. “Don’t worry, we can share,” Walker said, and the two huddled around a single mic stand, harmonizing (and pecking each other on the cheek) to a growing crowd.
Bearcoon going acoustic (Lonnie Nguyen)
About halfway through the set, Walker put the mic stand aside and called out Igoa’s talent as a busker who doesn’t need any electronics to amplify her soulful voice (Igoa often plays in front of the Rite-Aid on 2nd St. in Belmont Shore). The two then crept to the edge of the stage and launched into a raucous acoustic version of Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz,” with Igoa turning Joplin’s gritty vocals into buttery goodness that without a microphone still carried across the East Village. At the end of the song, attendees flooded to the front and dropped nickels in their bag.
While the headliners helped finish the evening with laughter, familiar songs and high-energy performances, the highlight of Buskerfest was and will always be the handful of local acts who each year compete for the most wooden nickels in an attempt to win the coveted $2500 grand prize. Whether actual buskers win or not is besides the point of the event (though Bearcoon’s victory was a beautiful hark back to its roots).