Gearing up for his second BuskerFest, musician Jim Armstrong recalled his inaugural performance last year.
"It was crazy, completely packed," said Armstrong, a Bloor Street West and Dundas Street West area resident in a recent interview. "It's fantastic. There are flame-throwers, flame-eaters, people on stilts, people climbing trees. There are a million things going on - it's just brilliant."
As a performer, Armstrong lapped up the adulation. â?¨"It's really nice to have people appreciate the music," he said modestly.
For the second consecutive year, Armstrong was asked to perform at BuskerFest by Epilepsy Toronto, a fitting invitation because proceeds from North America's largest BuskerFest benefit the organization. Armstrong says he welcomes the opportunity to raise awareness of the condition. He was diagnosed at the age of eight following a bout of cephalitis.
"They thought I was going to die," recalled Armstrong, succinctly remembering the experience because it followed a trip to the Royal Winter Fair in 1970.
The disease left a permanent scar on his brain, which in turn causes seizures, he explained. Never one to disclose his condition, Armstrong remembers elementary school as a lonely time.
"Kids thought you could catch epilepsy like a cold," said Armstrong. "I was chosen last for teams."
He sought solace in his music, a talent he doesn't know how he inherited. His father was a nuclear engineer, his mother a nurse. Not even his siblings dabbled in music. People say Armstrong's sound is a cross between Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty. He describes it as old country Americana - rock 'n roll, but with an acoustic background.
Armstrong has composed music for many independent feature and corporate films and his song 'Sanctuary' has been included on the soundtrack for an episode of the new CBC prime time television series, MVP; The Secret Lives of Hockey Wives. He just released his new CD Junction Road. He credits his music for his ability to help others. Through Epilepsy Toronto, which he connected with in 2005, he has become more inclined to share his experiences living with epilepsy.
"I always tried to hide it," he confessed. "But it doesn't stop me from doing anything."
It can be debilitating, said his manager Andrea Poulis.
"But, he never lets it get him down. He puts on a positive face," she said.
Armstrong joins the lineup of daredevils and magicians, high skill circus acts, comedians, clowns, contortionists, acrobats, aerialists, puppets and many others at this year's BuskerFest which takes place Aug. 26 to 29 throughout the St. Lawrence Market district. Log onto visit www.torontobuskerfest.com for details.
For more information about Armstrong's music, visit www.sonicdelirecords.com