If you’ve been around Booth street during Bluesfest, then chances are you’ve seen––or perhaps just heard––Nico Gravel perform. The 39 year old student has been busking to pay for his tuition since 2013, showing off his professional bag-piping skills for the people of Ottawa. Bluesfest is a particularly lucrative time for the artist, as crowds flock in the thousands to hear their favourite musicians take the main stage––and after a long few years without face-to-face contact, Gravel is hoping to make up for lost time.
Nico began busking on Booth street nearly 10 years ago, with the aim of paying off the tuition for his degree in osteopathic medicine with little to no debt. His passion for the instrument began in his early years, choosing bagpipes as the less disruptive option for his parents over the drums he initially wanted to take up. Within six months, Gravel had already surpassed the skill level of his instructor and went on to study in Victoria, then on to Halifax with some of the premiere piper’s in the country. He went on to compete at the World Pipe Band Championships in Glasgow, where he placed fourth in his division.
While Gravel is highly regarded both in the professional bagpiping sphere and by the Ottawa public, it seems that Ottawa Bylaw hasn’t quite joined the bandwagon. This past Saturday, the student was served a hefty $1000 ticket after some back and forth with Bylaw officers, who initially claimed the artist needed a vendor’s permit, despite not selling anything. They settled finally on a fine for “encumber(ing), damaging highway by (animals, vehicles or other means)”. Gravel states that the ticket was unwarranted, as traffic is closed on Booth street for the festivities, and there have never been any complaints of his performance blocking anyone’s access to the road.
The artist will return to his usual spot on Booth street for the remainder of Bluesfest, and is calling on his longtime fans and supporters to help him pay off the hefty fine. More information on Gravel can be found on his website https://nicogravel.com/