Randy Burnum, a guitar player that hails from Ulysses, said he’s spent most of his performing career tucked in the back.
The children of country music artists, Burnum and his sister were out on stage at a young age. She, now a successful musician on the west coast, was a natural performer, he said. Burnum was her accompanist. As an adult, with almost 55 years of musical experience under his belt, he’s played for years at his church and with friends, but never center stage.
So, when he balanced on a stool on a small wooden slab deemed the Busker Stage at Saturday’s Tumbleweed Festival for his first truly public performance, he said it was the best he could have hoped for.
“I didn’t know what to expect. I thought maybe they’d throw food or something … It feels like you’re going to have a heart attack,” Burnum said.
As it turns out, nobody threw anything during Burnum’s performance, something he counted as a success.
The Busker Stage, an open mic-style venue open to attendees of all ages, is new to Tumbleweed this year, as organizers looked for a way to showcase local, rising talent to nearby and out-of-town visitors that may not be acquainted with the area’s music scene.
“I think it’s a beautiful addition to the Tumbleweed. Anything that we can do to promote our local music scene is a great thing, and we’re happy to do it,” said Sean Collins, Tumbleweed Festival board president.
The performance area, made up of a small stage, several speakers and a semicircle of camping chairs between the event’s restrooms and Porta Potties, was a far throw from the booming setups elsewhere at the festival. But coming off a Friday evening lineup of local and once-local performers on the main stage, the Busker Stage gave close-to-home talent a much-appreciated and well-used platform.
Katie Prewitt, the stage-runner, said she and other festival organizers put out feelers for Busker performers among friends, on Facebook and at a recurring Wednesday night jam in Garden City. The lineup filled up pretty fast, but there were still people she had never heard before. Hopefully, after this weekend, that will change, she said.
“We’ve had a lot of people stop, and listen and ask questions about the artists, and that’s exciting … Taking the time to support live, local music is pretty much top on our list,” Prewitt said.
Some performers, like Lakin resident Jeremy Burns, had no plan for his set but to “play whatever’s in the vibe.” Others, like Garden City Community College sophomores Clara Jackson and Caleb Randall, sat in the grass, guitars in hand, practicing until it was time to go on.
Jackson and Randall were there at the behest of their guitar teacher, Tim Routon, who they said constantly pushed them to play publicly. The Busker Stage performance would mark the second time the students found themselves on stage at Tumbleweed due to Routon, after they had played during a main stage set that highlighted local artists two years ago.
That experience was nerve-wracking, they said, but worthwhile. Performing live never came easy, exactly, Randall said, but he enjoyed running into audience members after a show. As they optimistically but nervously prepared for their set at Busker, both said they were grateful for the opportunity and for Routon’s support.
“I wouldn’t (perform live) on my own. I’m not that kind of person,” Randall said. “I love it. I like the idea of doing it on my own. But if there’s … an open mic or something, I’m not going to go because no one’s making me … It’s there for our personal experience, and for us to be better musicians as a whole.”
Burns had played live before among friends, and said he connected with the emotional feedback from the audience. When Prewitt asked him to play at Busker, he said he was glad to help expand live music in Garden City.
“I think at some level, regardless of what level you’re at (as a musician), whether you’re out here in a circle like this or up on the big stage with the lights, I think everybody shares that base foundation that music is important to them. And some of us are just further along in the process then others,” Burns said.
Audience members were largely friends and family of the performers, including an extended circle of Garden City-area musicians that played on big and small stages, in bands, at bars and in circles of friends.
Two long-time patrons of that world, and two members of Busker’s audience, were Routon and Kent Carroll — Carroll a member of the local band Longtooth and the Hound Dogs and Twin Country, and Routon a member of the former. Both have played in several Garden City bands throughout recent decades, and both have played Tumbleweed, Carroll as recently as Friday night.
To them, both lifelong Garden City residents, Busker represented their ongoing effort to boost and bolster area talent, young and old. Some of the festival’s bigger stages may be intimidating, but Busker was a good space for performers that may have only played their bedroom to face their nerves and branch out, they said.
“It’s all about to push the youth to come out. And it’s payback,” Routon said.
“It is,” Carroll agreed. “Because we were treated that way when were growing up, too. A lot of the groups we went to see took us under their wing and said ‘Hey, let us show what it’s like.’”
Past Busker, the air on and between the far-apart stages at Lee Richardson Zoo was a collision of voice and music from different platforms. Diana Herold of the Diana Herold Quartet beat on a vibraphone. The Adam Capps Band ran through upbeat electric guitar-led country music. Sugar Free Allstars led fast-talking call-and-response catchphrases with families at the Children’s Stage ahead of a song.
Later, Kaylee Keller, a Garden City-born and bred singer/songwriter not much older than Jackson and Randall, opened her East Stage set with an Elton John cover. The night before, after releasing two EPs and opening live for other artists over the past several years, she played Tumbleweed for the first time, opening her hometown festival.
And at Busker, Burnum finished his set, one of many that day that gave local musicians a space or a start among well-known performers that were once exactly like them, and said he would absolutely perform live again.
“I’m just not ready to take the big stage yet. This was perfect for me today…” Burnum said. “It is exhilarating. And at my age you take every opportunity to have that.”