John Davis has been playing the bagpipes for nearly 25 years.
But his musical interests were just a side hobby — that is, until he recently retired.
With more time on his hands, Davis started piping again, and he now finds himself performing at the Soda City Market on Saturdays.
Davis isn't the only one who shares his passion at the market, though. He is surrounded by several other performers, commonly referred to as "buskers," who have obtained a license to share their own talents with the community.
Davis said he and other buskers in Columbia see themselves as more than street performers. For them, the act goes beyond just donations and has allowed them to interact with the community in ways that are meaningful to each individual.
“I want to keep practicing and sharing it with people as opposed to just bugging my neighbors, so I do it here (at Soda City),” Davis said.
Davis said that while busking has brought in some money for him, he doesn’t focus on that aspect of the activity.
“I'll never recover financially from the investment, but that doesn’t matter. It's a hobby, and I love doing it,” Davis said. “I don't want to make it a job. I don't need a job.”
Some performers, such as flamenco dancers Iryna Pinto and Samantha Soto, said their beginnings at Soda City provided them with opportunities to grow their passion into a business.
Pinto and Soto said people started to recognize them at the market and would often ask if they taught classes.
The pair said they took advantage of the opportunity and began teaching classes in Soto’s house. As they grew, the duo started renting out space to teach classes in Columbia and eventually expanded to teaching in Charlotte. Pinto said busking gave them the chance to connect with the community and spread their reach throughout the Carolinas.
“In Soda City, it always be like our huge platform, and we will never have enough words or enough ways to say thank you,” Pinto said. “I think they don't even know how grateful we are because of them.”
When COVID-19 hit, the pair stopped in-person classes to focus on taking care of their families, but they still perform privately and at Soda City when they are able.
Beyond business connections, busking also gives performers, such as violinist Martina Williams, the chance to create personal connections with members of the community they busk in.
Williams said it has been a way to enhance the experience for marketgoers while building relationships with customers and vendors.
“I love it because I think I thrive in communities,” Williams said. “And this is definitely the epitome of what a community is and how it functions and how, if everybody has the same mindset, everybody wins.”
Williams said she enjoys seeing how all the vendors and performers work harmoniously at events like Soda City to create a pleasant experience for attendees.
“We're here to enhance the experience for the people that come for the vendors. The vendors are the stars,” Williams said. “The market is the star of the show. We're here to add to that and not take away from it.”
To learn more about obtaining a busking license, performers can visit the City of Columbia Business License Division at 1339 Main St.
Editor's Note: Xavier Martin contributed to the reporting in this article.