I play fiddle four nights a week at the Streets at Southpoint mall. It's not quite the same as playing Hillsborough Street in Raleigh or Ninth Street in Durham. It's more like getting a job--audition, resume, references, the works. They want to make sure it's safe.
It's not as rugged or punishing as your regular street-corner gig. I get to be indoors in the cold weather. And there's a glossy aspect to the mall that makes me more acceptable to the upper middle class--and that's good for business.
The main thing, I've found, is to rivet the attention of a toddler or young child and then do a little flat-foot dancing while playing. They might then start dancing, too, with or without their parents' help or encouragement. Actual physical assistance (knee-bending, toe-tapping) or a demonstration by Mom or Dad may stimulate Junior in their first attempt at boogie.
At any rate, if the kid is interested or intrigued, the parent will likely contribute, or the somewhat older kid may insist on Mom or Dad shelling out.
The one-dollar bill is the standard donation, but two of them or a five or 10 are not unusual. Coins are welcome and accepted, of course, and they spend the same.
Clearly, a large majority of children have never seen an actual musician up close and in person. Quite a few parents consider this an important experience for their child to have, and will plant themselves up close for a few minutes in order to solidify and implant this impression on the emerging psyche of their offspring.
During warm weather, I'll play up by the box office of the movie theater, where there is also an unusual interactive-control fountain pool. Hordes of people come and go. When it's cold, you can find me at center court by the info booth. Those descending the escalator can see (and maybe hear), and although there is rather obtrusive Muzak already present, some homemade, primitive acoustic sounds likely provide a welcome contrast (or just a bizarre surprise). During the weeks when Santa and Mrs. Claus hold sway at the main indoor crossroads, I'm relegated to a less-frequented but still advantageous stretch between kiosks and stores nearby down the hall.
This, of course, is a big mall and represents, to me, nearly the entire Durham retail scene. Large murals in antique style, "weathered" for an aged effect, strain to give a homey, traditional impression. They advertise fictional products, mythic experiences or wishful ideas. Outdoors, on "Main Street," in an alley of restaurants and other stores, there are more fountains, more sculptures, more Muzak (emitting from plastic boulder-looking speakers--rock music, get it?), other entertainers (we are all "busking"--working for tips) appear besides myself, of course: shapers of long thin balloons into animal shapes, a caricaturist, a juggler, some other musicians.
Will the American Tobacco campus downtown include a corresponding performance element? I suspect so. There is a central courtyard in the existing set-up there. I wouldn't be surprised if there were a fountain, stage, nice landscape, regular performances (likely more formal than what I do at Southpoint) and even, maybe, some permanent form of recognition given to Durham's illustrious history of blues music dating back a century or more.