News / Toronto

Video: Sidewalk Crusaders busk for tuition money on the streets of Toronto

They could be working McJobs, but the seven young men busking as The Sidewalk Crusaders chose to put their music education to practical use instead.

“It’s a good job for us,” said Peter Cavanagh, who started the band in December 2012, though its seven current members started playing together in May 2013. “We get to practice our instruments ... and get exposure as a band.”

Cavanagh, 23, graduated from York University with a bachelor of fine arts in music and is now saving money for a masters degree. Five of his six younger bandmates are all either studying music or have recently graduated from a fine arts program.

They see the band as a means to not only play music, but also pay for their education.

On Sunday, a large crowd gathered outside the Eaton Centre as the band started their set with jazzy renditions of pop songs, including Macklemore’s Thriftshop and Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe. Some numbers include choreography with the band dancing in unison while holding their instruments.

People quickly opened their wallets, dropping coins and even some bills into a bag labelled: tuition fund.

“We make quite a bit, like, enough to put a good dent in our tuition,” said Cavanagh, explaining the band splits their haul seven ways. For business reasons, Cavanagh declined to say how much the band earns per summer.

They busk four days a week for eight hours a day near major Toronto intersections during the summer. Usually, they also have one paid gig a week at a wedding or corporate event. They slow down in the fall once school starts and the weather gets colder.

“It’s definitely a full-time job,” said trombone player Nick Marshall, 19, who just finished his first year studying contemporary music at Humber College.

Passersby seem to like what they hear and Cavanagh gently reminds the growing crowd not to block the mall’s entrance.

The band, whose members all hold busking permits, rarely runs into trouble during performances. Though, Cavanagh says business owners sometimes ask them to turn down the volume, especially if they’re playing near corporate offices.

Generally though, they catch at least a smile on a passerby’s face and are happy their music can inject happiness into a stranger’s day.

“That’s just like the best feeling,” said drummer Stuart Mein.

The Sidewalk Crusaders can be found playing into October around the downtown core. They will also be performing at this year’s BuskerFest August 21-24.

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