When first entering Historic Downtown Boulder, you’re greeted by planters brimming with fresh flowers, and visitors are invited to follow the red brick road. Is it somewhere magical like Oz? Not quite that magical, but it’s still one of the most active places around town. Pearl Street Mall, dedicated August 6, 1977, has been the hub in Boulder since the late 1950s. And throughout the years, the pedestrian strip now bustling with colorful locals, excited tourists, delicious bites and a selection of talented street performers, has remained a prime people-watching territory.
It’s surprising how long the four-block-long walk takes due to the eclectic performances on Pearl Street. You can’t help but stop at every group gathering to take a peek at the next act. Chances are, you will stay for the entire show.
“Entertainers have been coming to Pearl Street for 50 years. It’s been a long time tradition,” says Peter Irish who plays with fire and is also a self-taught juggler.
As a crowd starts to gather he continues to entice other passersby with witty comments and promises of a once-in-a-lifetime show.
“I was almost a performer in Cirque du Soleil,” Irish tells the crowd. “And I mean I filled out the application,” he says with a smile.
After a truly remarkable show of juggling, acrobats on a rolling barrel and some knife throwing, the show wraps up. On to the next performers.
There are two veteran performers on the 13th block of Pearl Street, Mark Austin Riggs and Ibashi-i.
Riggs first performed on Pearl Street in ’92 and became a regular in ’96, although he has been a veteran in the field for the past 25 years, moving his one man circus show across 48 states and 16 countries.
“It’s a tight-rope walk no matter what you do,” Riggs says when talking about working a show.
You would think that sitting on a 10’3”-tall unicycle while juggling batons that are on fire would be the main event of his daily shows. That’s just the icing on the cake. Riggs’ shows are part circus acts and part comedy special. He scripts some jokes before each show but includes some improv here and there. Especially when viewers start to walk away, which is not a common occurrence.
Then there’s Ibashi-i the famed contortionist. He has perfected squeezing his 6-foot, 160-pound body into boxes and crevices I’m not sure my two legs would even fit in. Decked in colorful Rasta clothing, he’s a performer who has gained local celeb status and is a staple of the Pearl Street scene.
After a long visit, it was time to go due to a summer storm that seemed to come out of nowhere. People ran for cover, children danced in the puddles and performers packed away their acts for the night.
But as the age old saying goes, ‘The show must go on.’ And here on Pearl Street, it always will.
“Entertainers have been coming to Pearl Street for 50 years. It’s been a long time tradition” -Peter Irish
“It’s a tight rope walk no matter what you do.” -Mark Riggs
“It’s a short show, I only do a few tricks, but I might die.” -John Stork