- Associated Press - Saturday, November 14, 2015

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - After each performance, Joey Fratelli, a street entertainer who juggles flaming torches, invites his audience to drop a few dollars in his tip jar.

But lately, more onlookers can only smile or shrug. There’s nothing in their wallets.

“It happens all the time,” said Fratelli, an Omaha street performer. “People walk up and say, ‘Hey, I loved the show, but unfortunately I don’t have any cash.’ “

With fewer people carrying cash, it’s becoming tougher for street performers - buskers - to pass the hat and make a buck.

The Omaha World-Herald (http://bit.ly/1Y6uWLZ ) reports that as with almost everything, there soon may be an app for that.

Buskers in Nebraska and elsewhere say it’s become a bigger challenge to fill the tip jar. A quick, unscientific study - watching customers at a local coffee shop use their debit cards for $2 and $3 charges - would appear to support their claims that fewer people are toting cash.

A study backs that up: According to a 2015 report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, a growing number of Americans are going cashless: Nine percent of Americans don’t carry any cash, and 40 percent carry less than $20 in their pocketbook or purse. The study, which is based on 2012 data, also concluded that on any given day the average American has three $1 bills in his wallet.

Street performers, including musicians, stilt walkers, jugglers and human statues, depend on those spare ones, fives and 10s to make ends meet or fill their coffers between paid gigs.

Arthur Fratelli, Joey’s father, honed his magic act on the streets of Omaha in the 1990s. (Arthur Silknitter of Omaha and his son go by the stage name “Fratelli” in a nod to the “bad guys” in the 1985 movie “The Goonies.”)

Back then, he said, cash was king and there was no problem passing the hat. Fratelli, otherwise known as “The Amazing Arthur,” is now a full-time entertainer who performs magic shows at corporate and private events.

But even the Amazing Arthur admits he rarely carries cash, using his debit card to pay for $1.08 Coke Zero refills at the local QuikTrip convenience store.

Reasons to swipe? Putting it on the plastic can rack up the credit card rewards, Fratelli said. And stopping payment on a lost credit card is easier than stopping payment on a lost $20 bill.

Joey Fratelli, whose recent venues include area farmers markets, Vala’s Pumpkin Patch and Omaha’s Old Market, recently talked to his father about accepting credit cards after performances. Both rejected the idea over concerns that making people wait in line to swipe their credit card would spoil the perceived spontaneity.

Some buskers, however, have elected to go digital, integrating virtual tip jars into their act, said Steven Baird, executive director of Street Arts and Buskers Advocates, based in Boston.

“There are street artists who display their website’s URL, accepting online donations through PayPal and other Internet services,” Baird said. “A few artists even have credit-card readers.”

Others are developing apps for smartphone donations, Baird said.

On a recent morning, musician Nate Bray planted himself, his microphone and electric guitar in Omaha’s Old Market District. He played a repertoire that included “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” and “The Power of Love.”

Rod Fitts, visiting from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, dropped a dollar - his last, in fact - into Bray’s tip jar. “I rarely carry cash,” Fitts said, opening his billfold to show it was indeed running on empty.

“People don’t always have cash,” said Bray, who said he’s had his fair share of contrite onlookers wander over to apologize for being cash poor.

Just being able to entertain folks is the biggest reward, said Bray, whose CDs are available online. But “wouldn’t it be absolutely cool,” if there were a way for people to “beam or text” him a donation, he wondered.

Bray said busking usually brings in about minimum wage but can bring in more on a nice summer night - up to around $10 or more an hour. Buskers throughout the U.S. typically earn minimum wage to $30 or more an hour, street performance groups say.

The lack of cash is a big issue among street performers, said Nick Broad, a British documentary filmmaker, who has filmed more than 300 performers on five continents.

Will buskers, who’ve been yodeling, making doves disappear and forming human pyramids for nearly 5,000 years be one of the casualties of a cashless society?

Not if Broad and a group of software developers can help it. Together, they’ve developed a free app - “Busk” - that allows fans to donate $5, $10 or $20 or more after a performance.

Users input their credit card information into the app and Stripe, a digital payment processing company, deposits the donation into the busker’s bank account, Broad said.

The new app is expected to debut on iTunes in a few weeks, followed by a version for Android devices, Broad said.

“The busker takes 90 percent of all transactions, we take between 3 percent and 8 percent depending on the donation amount, and Stripe takes the rest,” he said.

Future versions of the app should allow fans to locate a particular act or busker, buy their CD, or book him or her for a gig.

“That’s a fantastic idea, said the Amazing Arthur.

App or no app, Emily Lauritsen, who donated a $5 bill to Bray’s tip jar, said she plans to continue carrying cash.

“A year ago, I watched this great artist from start to finish,” Lauritsen said. Afterward she realized she had nothing to give him, and felt bad. Since then, she said, “I’ve made a point of carrying a few dollars at all times.”

___

Information from: Omaha World-Herald, http://www.omaha.com

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide