Thursday, July 30, 2009

'I feel the earth move under my feet..'

Ditmas Avenue in Brooklyn is one of those open-air stations over the street with facing platforms. It's pretty laid back, there's not too much traffic; but when two trains arrived at the same time, I could feel the section of platform beneath my seat start to shake. It's fair to say it's unsettling.

I chose this station with the original intention of playing a doubleheader here and at Ditmars Boulevard station in Astoria, for no other reason than that both stations seem so nondescript, given the names of the distinguished families - and the two names are often connected and shortened in the same family - they commemorate.

While the Astoria stop is named specifically for Abram Ditmars, mayor of Long Island City in the 1880s, the Ditmas Park area in Brooklyn is apparently named after the Dutch Van Ditmarse family who farmed the area in the 1600s. Anyway, enough geography. I just always found it odd that the two areas and stations were so far apart yet their origins must somehow be connected.

It was a quiet afternoon today, not much foot traffic, and so nothing to show for the effort; but I used the relative quiet to try out some slower or more mellow songs I don't play that often.

Today's songlist:

The Longer I Run - Peter Bradley Adams
After The Goldrush - Neil Young
Two Good Reasons - John Gorka
One Safe Place - Marc Cohn
Mexico - James Taylor
Things We've Handed Down - Marc Cohn
Keep It Loose, Keep It Tight - Amos Lee
People Get Ready - Curtis Mayfield
There Is Power In A Union - Billy Bragg
Message In A Bottle - Sting
Chance - Big Country
Land Of The Living - Lucy Kaplansky
Secret Garden - Bruce Springsteen
Tonight Will Be Fine - Leonard Cohen/Teddy Thompson
Blooming Heather - Frankie McPeake/Kate Rusby



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I went to "Irish Heritage" night at the Brooklyn Cyclones tonight.

It's always a fun night out at Keyspan Park, but there's a part of me that wishes that maybe just once, in addition to the midget leprechaun, the "corned beef and cabbage toss" the green t-shirts sponsored by Budweiser, the pipe band and the "potato throw", that perhaps the team could take the field wearing shirts bearing the names of Irish literary giants?

What a line-up this would be:

LF: Yeats
CF: Synge
RF: Sheridan
3B: Heaney
SS: Shaw
2B: O'Casey
1B: Joyce
C: Swift
LHP: Wilde

Warming up in the bullpen: Beckett, and the rookie, Hugh Leonard.

As each batter was walking to the plate, the announcer could read a passage from one of their famous works.

Just once.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

'Son, won't you play me a melody..'



Ok, so after my missive yesterday about not being able talk to some of the subway musicians because I can't speak their language, I come across one that I can't talk to because he never seems to stop playing!

This kid was playing on the platform at 14th Street and it was just constant - one song into the next: boom, boom, boom. I finally managed to snatch a quick exchange with him as I was putting a dollar in his suitcase. A suitcase? Buskers are usually content with a paper bag or an upturned hat. But man, he was filling it...

He told me his name was Jason and he was twelve years old. He said he'd been playing piano for four years. And then that was it, he was into whatever the next piece was. As my train pulled in someone - I'm guessing his father or an uncle - appeared from nowhere to fan him briefly with a baseball cap, but then he was off playing again. Time's a wastin'..!

Come to think of it, when I asked him how long he'd been playing and he said "four years," he could have meant this session. I honestly have no way of knowing.


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Because of a minor string crisis today (ie not having enough of them), both the Little Martin and the Yamaha were out of service, so I had to use what I consider my 'sunday go to meetin' guitar, a Martin D1 that I bought at Matt Umanov's store in Bleecker Street five years ago.

Here's a picture of me trying it out in their soundproof room before buying it. I went back and forth for a while, since I couldn't really afford it, but eventually she hooked me. By the way, there's a nice piece today on I Heart Guitar by Joe Matera about the history of the Martin brand.

So today I figured, why not go back to play near where the D1 and I "became involved", as it were...

While the Bleecker Street station serves one of the coolest parts of Manhattan, below ground the platforms and the station itself definitely live up to their first syllable. It also has the loudest and most incoherent platform PA I've come across so far. And that's saying something.

But since it was the first day out dancing with the D1, it turned out to be a couple of other firsts too. I ended up making more money today than any other single day. There was a total of $9.02 in the case, making the running tally for these guys $75.56.

It was also the longest I'd played in one set, at just over two hours, and the most songs - 23 - not including three or four repeats for platform noise.

I had a good time today. The people were cool and good-natured; one woman gave me some tissues to wipe my face, since the humidity was stifling, and there were lots of nods and smiles. In fact, I got maybe the best compliment so far - or at least I hope it was. As I was playing "People Get Ready" a huge, tattooed guy went past and just said: "That's the shit right there, man!"


Today's songlist:

Shattered Cross - Stuart Adamson
Knockin' On Heaven's Door - Bob Dylan
People Get Ready - Curtis Mayfield
Galway Girl - Steve Earle
Little Sister - Ry Cooder
May You Never - John Martyn
Marriage Made In Hollywood - Paul Brady
The Times They Are A-Changin' - Bob Dylan
Secret Garden - Bruce Springsteen
The Boys Of Summer - Don Henley
Drift Away - Dobie Gray
Peace Love And Understanding - Elvis Costello
The Promised Land - Bruce Springsteen
Roxanne - Sting
Sweet Life - Catie Curtis
Leap Of Faith - Bruce Springsteen
Waiting For My Real Life To Begin - Colin Hay
Rosalita - Bruce Springsteen
Walking In Memphis - Marc Cohn
Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For - U2
Into The Mystic - Van Morrison
Lawyers Guns And Money - Warren Zevon
Sultans Of Swing - Dire Straits

And there was another first for BuskerCam today; for the first time you can hear people actually putting money in the case, and at one point me saying "thank you". Also, bear in mind this was the 19th song of 23 I played today, and my voice is pretty much gone, but here y'go...



Yes, that is a huge gaping hole in the ceiling above my head. When today's torrential downpour started at about three o'clock, it was clearly time to move.


And here's how it should sound. A great song and a great version by its writer on the same tour last year when we caught him at the Highline Ballroom in New York. You have to love his comments at the start about playing live... Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

'Trying to get it off his chest, he gets the words he needs tonight..'



I played at three of the four 116th Street stations today, and reckoned three strikeouts on one afternoon was enough.

The last few days underground have been frustrating, I'll be honest. Not totally because people aren't throwing any change my way - I'm still getting a kick out of playing. But it's more that on a few occasions recently when I've wanted to talk to the musicians I've encountered, the language barrier has just made it too difficult.

It's all very well for me to shoot some video and share that with you - and there have been a couple of players as well this past week who didn't want me to tape them - but what I really wanted to do was dig a little deeper than just "how long have you been playing on the Subway?" And since I can't speak Spanish or Chinese, sometimes even that gets misunderstood.

Maybe its just been the luck of the draw recently, and tomorrow I'll run into some home-grown talent that's happy to be filmed. Who knows?

To tell the truth, it's felt as frustrating as my recent job search efforts have been; and now, with only about three weeks left on this project, it's getting time to turn my attention back towards finding the next step, whatever that might be.

Anyway, I played at three stations on the northside of Central Park today - two of the 116th streets in Harlem and the third by Columbia University at Morningside Heights. It's hard to imagine greater contrast among stations that share a name.

At the 2/3 line station, there's two beautiful mosaics, 'Minton's Playhouse' and 'Movers and Shakers' by Vincent Smith, depicting famous Harlem figures (there's a similar set of mosaics at the 125th Street station near the Apollo Theater).

The lower panel here (in the songlist) shows Duke Ellington and Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson. There's also a portrait of WEB DuBois, and coincidentally, we'd driven right past his childhood homestead - now administered by Amherst - when we were in the Berkshires this past weekend.



Today's songlists:

116th on the 6 line:

People Get Ready - Curtis Mayfield
For My Wedding - Don Henley
Here Comes The Sun - Beatles
Knockin' On Heaven's Door - Bob Dylan
Drift Away - Dobie Gray
The Joker - Steve Miller

116th on the 2/3 line:

Knockin' On Heaven's Door - Bob Dylan
People Get Ready - Curtis Mayfield
Secret Garden - Bruce Springsteen
Waiting For My Real Life To Begin - Colin Hay
For My Wedding - Don Henley
Sultans Of Swing - Dire Straits
Drift Away - Dobie Gray
Roxanne - Sting
Bad Moon Rising - John Fogerty
Rosalita - Bruce Springsteen



116th on the 1 line:

Here Comes The Sun - Beatles
Knockin' On Heaven's Door - Bob Dylan
Get Together - Jesse Colin Young
The White Hare - Seth Lakeman
Peace Love And Understanding - Elvis Costello
Sweet Life - Catie Curtis
Bad Karma - Warren Zevon



* The lyric title of tonight's post is maybe a bit obscure - it's from Ian Hunter's "Central Park And West". I loved Mott The Hoople when I was a kid and Ian Hunter is a great songwriter. But here's the stretch: in that song he namechecks Frank Carillo - a New York guitar player I hadn't heard of until the song. So here's Frank Carillo and the Bandoleros:

Monday, July 27, 2009

'I don't wanna be a poet, 'cause I don't wanna blow it..'



Nothing to do with a diminutive musical genius from Minneapolis, but here I am at Prince Street. I didn't even play any of his songs. Maybe that was what was wrong today; didn't get much of a reaction, and didn't end up with any money in the case. It was pretty much a nothing station to be honest.

Even the people depicted in 'Carrying On', the artwork by Janet Zweig along the platform sides look like they're totally worn down by the weight of the world.


















I played for about 45 minutes at Prince St, realized I was getting nowhere, then went one stop down the R line to Canal, where I played at my usual spot at the foot of the stairs for another hour and a quarter or so. Folks were nice as always, and there was a Chinese-language poster with a service change announcement on the wall near where I was, which meant more people stood in front of me more intently! I ended up with $1.28 on the afternoon, making the running total $66.54.

Later, I went looking for musicians at the 14th, 34th and 42nd Street MUNY spots, but there was no-one playing. I was told a while back that a lot of buskers who work weekends take Mondays off - like some of the Broadway shows - and I'm definitely finding Mondays are much lighter when it comes to musicians out and about.

Prince St set:

Shining Birmingham - Randall Bramlett
Mexico - James Taylor
One Safe Place - Marc Cohn
Here Comes The Sun - Beatles
Bad Moon Rising - John Fogerty
Waitin' On The World To Change - John Mayer
Tumblin' Dice - Rolling Stones
These Days - Jackson Browne
You're The World To Me - David Gray


Canal St set:

Knockin' On Heaven's Door - Bob Dylan
I Won't Back Down - Tom Petty
The Weight - The Band
The Promised Land - Bruce Springsteen
Lucky Town - Bruce Springsteen
Into The Mystic - Van Morrison
Rise - Eddie Vedder
Barricades Of Heaven - Jackson Browne
Desire - Ryan Adams
Little Sister - Ry Cooder
Rosalita - Bruce Springsteen
Peace Love And Understanding - Elvis Costello
Waiting For My Real Life To Begin - Colin Hay
People Get Ready - Curtis Mayfield
You're The World To Me - David Gray

Finally, here's a little Prince-related bonus... check out his solo towards the end of this George Harrison tribute at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2004. Great song, great performance.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

'To want what I have, to take what I'm given with grace..'

We were at a wedding in the Berkshires this weekend. Two of our best friends got married at their house and as soon as the Justice of the Peace arrived and we discovered her surname was Funk, we knew everything would be cool.

Being with people you love as they dedicate their lives to each other puts a lot of things in perspective. It got Mrs Beatbelow and I thinking of when we were married two summers ago in Ireland - the second go around for both of us. It was a remarkable, lovely, humbling experience.

This project will be finished before we arrive at our anniversary, so I hope you don't mind if I take time now for a quick memory, since music was so important to both of us on the day and throughout the trip. Beforehand, we'd stayed at the Clarence in Dublin and taken our extended family on the Musical Pub Crawl where everyone had a great time. If you're visiting, and remotely interested in music, or pubs, we'd heartily recommend it.















Up in Enniskillen, we had a Quaker ceremony, but in combination with that beautiful silence and reflection, our subsequent wedding party was full of music and dancing. Family and friends came to sing and play; my stepdaughters sang songs by the Dixie Chicks and the Indigo Girls, while Mick Kavanagh, a musician friend of mine and former FT colleague from London brought his banjo and the two of us played some bluegrass and traditional Irish songs.

Before and after the ceremony itself, we had a terrific Uilleann piper called Eamonn Curran play for us from the minstrel gallery overlooking the room where the wedding took place. Eamonn has played all over the world with people like Dolores Keane and we were lucky to have him be part of our day.



But the music really got going when our friend Jim McGrath brought some local musicians - a guitarist, bodhran and a fiddle player to play alongside his accordion - so we could dance the night away. Jim had been working on a project called Hidden Fermanagh, gathering traditional songs from the area, and had appeared at the Smithsonian Folkways festival in Washington DC a couple of weeks before playing at our wedding.

He'd played at our venue before and told me evenings like this one were reminiscent of the life of traveling musicians a century or more ago, where they would arrive at the local manor house to play for the squire and his guests to dance, then move on to the next party.

The following evening, we bumped into Jim in town and went to hear him in a session with some other local players. They dedicated a song to us newlyweds and even invited me up to play, in between Guinnesses. I did a lyrically-challenged version of 'John O'Reilly' by Charlie Robison.

For me, it's hard to imagine joy without music. And it's harder to imagine a life without joy. Now, thanks to Mrs Beatbelow, I'll never have to worry about being without either.

Thanks, babe.

Friday, July 24, 2009

'Let Me Roll It'



So, Bowling Green. The name conjures up a peaceful, bucolic idyl of the village square; surrounded by meadow, perhaps chirping birds, lazy sunsets and warm beer. Straight out of a Colin Dexter novel, or the start of a Pink Floyd concept album before it all goes to hell in some freakish handbasket.

Alas, not today. I might as well have played in a bowling alley. It was too loud, too bright, too busy.

Too much ambient noise - the station is a stopping off point for the Staten Island Ferry terminal, so it's always crowded - and too narrow a platform area to be practical. I was also using the little Martin today, which I've discovered isn't really that good for noisy platforms.

Still, I managed about 50 minutes, and ended up with 26 cents in small change. Not much, sure, but I've played better, for longer, at more suitable locations, and got nothing, so I'm not knocking it.

Running total for these guys is now $65.26.

Today's Songlist:

Stop Draggin' My Heart Around - Tom Petty
I Know - Kim Richey
People Get Ready - Curtis Mayfield
The Boys Of Summer - Don Henley
Nothing But The Same Old Story - Paul Brady
Knockin' On Heaven's Door - Bob Dylan
You're The World To Me - David Gray
These Days - Jackson Browne
We Shall Overcome - Bruce Springsteen (Seeger Sessions version)
Little Sister - Ry Cooder
Here Comes The Sun - Beatles
Lakes Of Pontchartrain - Paul Brady


(Interesting interpretation here on the song that prompted the title of today's post.)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

'We danced to the mystery band..'



One Leg Chuck is something of a musical institution on the Subway. If you've been through any of the midtown stations you'll likely have heard him and his melancholy, anthemic guitar playing. You usually hear him before you see him.

You can listen to an interview and a good audio report about Chuck from a couple of years back by the NYCity News Service here.

He's not always everyone's cup of tea, but he's a damn fine player, as you'll see if you pick up a copy of his CD, 'Under New York'. He's playing a show tomorrow night (Friday) with his band, the Alphabet City Street Stars at the Trash Bar in Williamsburg.


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I played at the 96th Street stop today, at the foot of the steps leading down to the downtown platform on the 6 line. The acoustics were good and people were friendly, but it was really humid. A couple of new songs and a suggestion from this morning's "crowdsource setlist" on Twitter.

I played for about an hour and made $3 before I broke a string. I came back up top during a thunderstorm and just in time to catch the end of Mark Buehrle's perfect game. Even as a diehard Cub fan, I can applaud his achievement.

Today's songlist:

Life In Technicolor - Coldplay
May You Never - John Martyn
Tumblin' Dice - Rolling Stones
People Get Ready - Curtis Mayfield
Waitin' On The World To Change - John Mayer
Wild Horses - Rolling Stones
You're Still Standing There - Steve Earle
New York, New York - Ryan Adams
Late In The Evening - Paul Simon
I Won't Back Down - Tom Petty
Shattered Cross - Stuart Adamson
The Boys Of Summer - Don Henley



'Here Comes The Bride'

I don't often post random stuff on here, but I was getting ready to go out busking this morning, saw this, and can't stop smiling.

Mrs Beatbelow and I are going to a wedding this weekend, but somehow I think our friends might have a hard job topping this. This is probably the single most joyous thing I've seen for months, and I wish the - clearly - happy couple all the good fortune in the world.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

'Roundin' third, heading for home..'

I took a break from busking today and went to the ballgame with my son. For no other reason than because I could, and I was grateful to be able to do it.



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I learned yesterday about the passing of Bill Kennedy, an artist and photographer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

For several years a while back, I used to go regularly to spring training - sometimes in Florida, sometimes in Arizona - with a group of friends, all of them about my age, and most of them journalists. It was our chance to grow young again, even for a little while.

In 2004 one of the guys, who works at the PD, gave the rest of us wood block prints signed on the back by Billy Kennedy, each of which had a baseball theme.

I still have mine on my desk. It's a picture of a tired, worn baseball at the center of a whirring fan. It's called, obviously, 'Baseball Fan' and each time I look at it, I see peace in the middle of chaos.

Marc, thanks for the gift. And Bill, we never met, but thanks for your gift too.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

'Time may heal all wounds, but time will steal you blind..'



It was a lousy day in the city today, constant rain and oppressive humidity. And it was gloomy. We just never saw the sun at all.

Since Jackson Browne was due to appear at the Prospect Bark Bandshell tonight. I thought I'd go play at Grand Army Plaza, the station at the main entrance to the park, and try to catch some potential concertgoers about an hour before the show was set to start. Problem was, that was also rush hour, so there were lots of trains coming through, and folks were generally in a hurry, which wasn't conducive to generosity, let alone people's soggy demeanour.

Anyway, I played for about an hour, thought I'd pitched the set just right for anyone who might have been going to the show, but wound up with nothing in the case.

Today's Songlist:

Tender Is The Night - Jackson Browne
Knockin' On Heaven's Door - Bob Dylan
Barricades Of Heaven - Jackson Browne
People Get Ready - Curtis Mayfield
Tumblin' Dice - Rolling Stones
In The Shape Of A Heart - Jackson Browne
When Johnny Strikes Up The Band - Warren Zevon
Lawyers Guns And Money - Warren Zevon
The Boys Of Summer - Don Henley
Peace Love And Understanding - Elvis Costello
Rosalita - Bruce Springsteen


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Today, Jackson Browne announced that he'd settled with the Republican Party over disputed use of 'Running On Empty' in ads by the John McCain campaign during last year's election.

According to Billboard.com, the Republican National Committee "issued a statement apologizing to Browne following the settlement, adding that McCain had absolutely no hand in the litigious ad".

If you're interested, here's a commentary I did for Forbes last April about campaign songs.

Monday, July 20, 2009

'Giant steps are what you take..'

Forty years ago today, I huddled into the projection room at Harding Memorial Primary School in Belfast with a hundred other kids to see television pictures of the Moon landing. Like children my age all over the world, I'm grateful to my teachers, who knew what was happening was important enough that we should all gather together to watch - and remember - history being made.

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Tao Qi, a Chinese Bass-Baritone, has been singing for 25 years, and for seven years on the Subway. I've seen him before up and down the network, but I ran into him today at the MUNY spot on 34th Street, as he was singing 'Ave Maria'. His hands are as huge as his voice...



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I was anxious to get back to playing today and ended up at East Broadway, the only subway station you can buy online. I like playing somewhere people don't really expect to hear music, and this is definitely one of those stations. It was relatively quiet, and the people - including the cops - were good natured.

I played for an hour and fifteen minutes and made $1.12. Running total for this charity is now an even $62. I had fun playing today. It's good to be back.

I played one song today for the first time during this project. It's highlighted. It's one of my very favorite songs, but I don't play it that often and I can understand why it took its writers so long to play it in public.


Today's songlist:

Knockin' On Heaven's Door - Bob Dylan
New York, New York - Ryan Adams
Walking In Memphis - Marc Cohn
Waiting For My Real Life To Begin - Colin Hay
People Get Ready - Curtis Mayfield
Long Walk Home - Bruce Springsteen
Drift Away - Dobie Gray
Peace Love And Understanding - Elvis Costello
American Girl - Tom Petty
Rachel - Buddy and Julie Miller
Drive South - John Hiatt
Nothing But The Same Old Story - Paul Brady
Tonight Will Be Fine - Leonard Cohen/Teddy Thompson
Secret Garden - Bruce Springsteen
Keep It Loose, Keep It Tight - Amos Lee

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If you liked this post, you might also enjoy reading these:

'I Can Hear Rain Coming. Like A Serenade Of Sound..'
'We're All A Part Of The Rhythm Nation..'
'I Believe In The Promised Land'

Sunday, July 19, 2009

'Can I roam beside you, I've come to lose the smog..'

We were staying a few miles from Bethel this weekend, in upstate New York, a month before the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. On Saturday night Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, and Bob Dylan were playing at the Bethel Woods Arts Center, where there are just some great shows coming up. The countryside up there is breathtaking and truly soothes the soul.

This, by the way, looks hilarious; and is being released to coincide with the concert anniversary.



And, hey, I wonder if this picture might be the one they told me about here?


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Even though I was taking a break from playing, the weekend was still full of music. On Friday night we spent a lovely hour or so listening to a pickup band round a roaring fire as a thunderstorm broke outside. The band - guitar, mandolin, double bass, accordion/fiddle - were called Too Much Fun and sounded a little like Nickel Creek, as they ran through some bluegrass and folk standards.

When I'm retired if that ever happens, that's how I'd like to spend my weekend evenings; hanging with good friends, playing music that we all love and not taking it too seriously.

The following night we were at the beautiful setting of the Caramoor Opera Festival, where stepdaughter was in the chorus for a production of Donizetti's 'Elisir d'Amore'. She's also in the chorus for Rossini's 'Semiramide' at the end of the month before she heads off to the voice program here in the fall.

It was a great weekend. I'm restored and ready to get back to the city and back on the subway tomorrow.

Friday, July 17, 2009

'Lazin' on a sunny afternoon..'

I've taken a quick break out of the city with wife and 3/5ths of our kids, so no busking yesterday, or likely until Sunday evening.

As if to reinforce what I've always believed about exactly how tough a life Subway musicians have, I've only been doing this for a few weeks, and I can feel a different, more congested, quality to my throat and voice.

The dust and grime below ground is something you take for granted as a passenger, because you're only enduring it for a short time as a means to an end. When it becomes your 'working environment' it's a different matter. That goes for MTA employees and cops too, of course, but for the musicians, it's a challenge to perform at your best in such circumstances.

My hat's off to them all, as always.

We've come about two hours out of New York and we're in the Catskills - appropriately enough in Ulster County - at a lovely old resort, but I can happily report that no cats are actively being harmed.

As far as I know.

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Until the other day, I thought there was only one musical saw player on the Subway.

Moses Josiah from Guyana has been playing the saw since 1947 and has been playing on the Subway for more than ten years. "I play guitar and piano as well," he said, "but this (the saw) is different - there's no keys or notes to look at. It's just you making the music."



He says he learned by reading about the instrument and then "picked up one of my daddy's saws and banged it with a hammer to see what noise it made."

Of this weekend's Saw Festival in Queens, he says: "it just keeps getting bigger every year." According to the Saw Lady, 56 sawists will now be attending.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

'If at first..'




Lankandia Cissoko is a Senegalese kora player. Like the previous kora player I'd run across on the Subway, Salieu Suso from the Gambia, he's a griot or storyteller, and, with a long family history behind him, has been playing on the New York system for a number of years. I saw him today, with a sizeable crowd, at the 42nd Street spot.

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Today was the first time since I've started this project that I had to admit defeat. I was actually beaten back by sheer noise.

I went to Jackson Heights this morning, to the Roosevelt Avenue station. I stood on the platform for about 15 minutes before I realized that playing there was just going to be completely impractical. During almost that whole time, there was barely a minute where there weren't trains pulling in, idling, or pulling out.

I've played at a lot of busy platforms, and usually you get some respite, some gap within the natural flow of the train traffic. This, though, just seemed completely f*cked up. I could hardly hear myself think, let alone play anything.

So I came back downtown to 8th Street, the home of the NYU campus; what I thought might be an appreciative audience; my, er, peeps.



Yeah, right.

I played for just over an hour; relatively quiet station, but it wasn't a fertile acre. The folks who came onto the platform wouldn't even come near where I was standing. Of those who did, I got a couple of smiles - from younger people - but just as many condescending eye-rolls and heavy sighs from slightly older passengers.

You know what? We're all entitled to our opinion. If you don't like what I'm playing - or any musician on the Subway - what's the longest you have to put up with it? Two, maybe three minutes? Is that too much?

I guess for some people it is, and for that, I apologize. Sorry it's not a string quartet. The station does have some really niceish mosaics, though.

Not to worry. I dealt with getting nothing in the case by riding a little further downtown and doing a second set for another hour at Canal Street, where I haven't played for a while. Had to give more directions today, because the Q train wasn't running, but I ended up with $2.88 (running total now $60.88).

8th Street:

When You Say Nothing At All - Alison Krauss
Mexico - James Taylor
Roxanne - The Police
People Get Ready - Curtis Mayfield
Bad Karma - Warren Zevon
Knockin' On Heaven's Door - Bob Dylan
The Lakes Of Pontchartrain - Paul Brady
May You Never - John Martyn
When The Stars Go Blue - Ryan Adams
Waiting For My Real Life To Begin - Colin Hay
You Got Lucky - Tom Petty
Rosalita - Bruce Springsteen

Canal Street:

Knockin' On Heaven's Door - Bob Dylan
The Only Living Boy In New York - Paul Simon
You're The World To Me - David Gray
People Get Ready - Curtis Mayfield
I Want You Back - Jackson Five
Waitin' On The World To Change - John Mayer
Roxanne - The Police
Sweetheart Like You - Bob Dylan
The Ties That Bind - Bruce Springsteen
Galway Girl - Steve Earle
Peace Love And Understanding - Elvis Costello

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On my way home, I passed Calebe Arruda at the tunnel to the Times Square shuttle, and I ran into these guys again.

But of course with my usual impeccable timing, I surfaced back in Brooklyn only to find my phone going nuts with Tweets and texts about this...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

'I can hear rain coming like a serenade of sound..'

After meeting the Duxianquin player yesterday, today I ran into two more Chinese artists, both with stringed instruments, but one more conventional than the other.

First, I bumped into M.J. Zhang, a solo cellist, who was playing Bach's Cello Suite #1 in Gmaj.



Later, on a platform at West 4th Street, I came across a gentleman playing a Chinese hammered dulcimer or - I think - a Yangqin (or Yang Qin) where bronze strings are played with a pair of bamboo beaters. It's a very distinctive and soothing sound.



(You might recognize the sound of a hammered dulcimer from the beginning of Coldplay's "Life In Technicolor" - which features samples from Jon Hopkins' brilliant "Light Through The Veins" - a very cool song idea - the lyric version of which I've tried to play a couple of times on platforms recently)




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Today I went to play at one of the Subway network's busiest stations: 59th Street / Columbus Circle. Lots of trains, but I found a good spot beneath a staircase, with plenty of people milling around. A couple of MTA guys were taking what looked like decibel measurement readings while I was playing, and certainly whenever up and down trains arrived at the same time, it was as loud as - if not louder than - anywhere else I've played so far.

I sang for just over an hour with gaps and made $2.51, which takes my running total to - somewhat symmetrically - exactly $58.

Songlist:

Knockin' On Heaven's Door - Bob Dylan
Atlantic City - Bruce Springsteen
1952 Vincent Black Lightning - Richard Thompson
Stand By Me - Ben E. King
Waiting For My Real Life To Begin - Colin Hay
Wonderwall - Oasis
Lovers In A Dangerous Time - Bruce Cockburn
Lawyers, Guns And Money - Warren Zevon
Rosalita - Bruce Springsteen
Secret Garden - Bruce Springsteen

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There's an interview here with our friend the Saw Lady about the upcoming Saw Festival she's organizing in Queens this weekend.

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And I'm grateful to Natalia for drawing my attention to this story a couple of days ago about public access pianos in London. I love how in a few short grafs, they manage to get in bureaucracy, vandalism, rain, traditional English 'reserve' and the recession; as well as the old faithful "struck a chord" cliche.

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No such luck for Thoth, the loinclothed Central Park violinist/vocalist who's apparently been shut down by Park authorities. Check out the documentary about him at the Gawker link.

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Finally, just when you thought we'd had the last Michael Jackson reference, this comes along and manages to be very clever, even if the tape loop starts to irritate after the first twenty or so clips.

Monday, July 13, 2009

'I believe in the promised land'



There's something spectacular, in many ways, about being able to play on a platform from which you can see the Statue of Liberty. It makes me feel good about my adopted city and homeland, and it's a pretty cool backdrop for folks on their morning commute into the city.

I played for about an hour this morning on the uptown platform at Smith and 9th Street in Brooklyn - nice location, plenty of people, but I just mustn't have caught them at a good time, since I wound up with nothing in the case.

That's ok, though, it was a beautiful day and I'm sure people were preoccupied. I tried out a few new songs and decided I'd come back later and try to catch folks in a better mood on their way home.

I played for about another 45 minutes on the downtown platform starting at around 6pm, and sure enough, people were definitely much more mellow. The evening set was fun - lots of smiles and good conversation. Deep down, people are good at heart.

So I ended up with another $2, which makes the running total for the Robin Hood Foundation $55.49 (and they have a one-for-one matching plan at the moment, so whatever I raise will effectively be doubled when I hand it over).

Morning Set:

Walking In Memphis - Marc Cohn
Knockin' On Heaven's Door - Bob Dylan
Stand By Me - Ben E. King
Baby Can I Hold You - Tracy Chapman
Waiting For My Real Life To Begin - Colin Hay
People Get Ready - Curtis Mayfield
The River - Bruce Springsteen
The Further We Stretch - Ezio
The Only Living Boy In New York - Paul Simon
Sweet Life - Catie Curtis
Fall At Your Feet - Crowded House
Rosalita - Bruce Springsteen


Evening Set:

Sultans Of Swing - Dire Straits (see below)
People Get Ready - Curtis Mayfield
Knockin' On Heaven's Door - Bob Dylan
The Promised Land - Bruce Springsteen
Rosalita - Bruce Springsteen
Brown Eyed Girl - Van Morrison
The Weight - The Band
No Surrender - Bruce Springsteen


***********************************



At Canal Street this afternoon, I saw a Chinese man playing a Duxianquin or a single-stringed zither-like instrument. At first it sounded and looked like a cross between a lap steel guitar and a theremin. What he was playing also sounded eerily like the intro to Pink Floyd's "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" but of course it wasn't.

He was selling CDs but unfortunately the title and details were all written in Chinese.

But, like the Er-hu player I'd come across previously, I had never heard anything like it before, and was happy to watch for a while.




***********************************



Twenty-four years ago today, and the playing is still as great as it was then...



I started watching in the morning in Balham, finished up in West Hampstead hours later. On the way uptown, every house, every pub, was blaring the show out into the street. Where were you?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

'When the night has come and the land is dark..'

No busking for me this weekend.

Saturday I went out to Coney Island on what turned out to be one of the windiest days of the summer so far, and saw these guys playing under a marquee on the Boardwalk.



Turns out there was a short documentary film entered in the Coney Island Film Festival a few years ago looking at street musicians, called Santos And The Romantics, directed by a Russian filmmaker, Dmitry Khavin. If anyone has seen it, let me know?

On the subject of movies, there's a really good documentary called Playing For Change, about the transformative power of music all around the world and what unites us as human beings.

The movie's director, Mark Johnson, says: "When there's no separation between music and people, when music is just happening and people can walk by and it can affect them, that this is an opportunity for us to really find a way to bring people together."

I couldn't agree more.

There's a Bill Moyers interview with Mark Johnson here. Please watch it if you can?

Friday, July 10, 2009

'Don't think twice, it's alright..'



Ok, 42nd Street, I can take a hint.

You may be the biggest and busiest station on the MTA network, after all; but can't you find another way to let me know I'm not ready for prime time?

I managed four songs before I broke a string yesterday, and since I felt shortchanged, I wanted to go back today and make up for lost time. I guess I got one more song in before the string Gods decided that I just wasn't worthy of the stage. It was a B this time, not a D like yesterday. But it still throws you off.

I think it's partly that on the noisy platforms I naturally play a little heavier to be heard, but the humidity has also got to be a factor.

One woman said: "Too bad - that was sounding good," which was very nice, but I still ended up with no money in the case for today's efforts.

As I was leaving the station I bumped into a sax player called Leonard Love who plays undergound a couple of days a week. As it happened he was having some trouble with his reed; I told him about my strings and we sympathized with each other. "Just too hot, man" he said.

On the train home, the anonymous all-in-black cowboy guitarist got on, pulling his little amp in a wheelie bag. He spent two stations tuning up, leading the driver to announce: "Folks, please don't give to people playing on the train - it's illegal."

At least he has a new song. He usually plays "Heaven's Door" but now he has a very passable version of Tracy Chapman's "Baby Can I Hold You". I should learn that one, it sounded good.

42nd Street, you haven't seen the last of me...


Songlist:

The Promised Land - Bruce Springsteen
People Get Ready - Curtis Mayfield
Knockin' On Heaven's Door - Bob Dylan
Bad Moon Rising - John Fogerty
Galway Girl - Steve Earle


*********************************



I spotted this sign the other day on 10th Street:



Turns out it is actually a chess club and not a society devoted to discussing this guy.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

'Them's the breaks'

I went to play at the 42nd Street/Bryant Park stop today - nice day, I was feeling good about getting out early and catching some tourists as they headed out for their day in the city.

Best laid plans, though...

I set up at a nice spot on the F/V platform; pretty quiet, decent passenger traffic, and started to play. Got a few encouraging nods and a couple of folks threw some change in during the first couple of songs - always a good start. Figured I'd be there for a while but then, four songs in, KBOINNGGGG my D string just found it all too much and unravelled.

I knew how it felt.

But luckily I was only a few blocks away from 48th Street, home of Sam Ash's music shop. Sam Ash took over Manny's, a famous Broadway musical landmark across the street, and about a month and a half ago they moved all their guitar stuff over into Manny's building.

Gone, unfortunately, are all the amazing autographed pictures that used to line Manny's walls of pretty much every famous guitarist from the last 30 years. There's a good article here about the takeover.

On my way up to 48th, though, it was easy to be waylaid by the music 'in the open' - the 'Broadway in Bryant Park' season kicked off today with the cast of 'In The Heights'; then I passed Espiritu Andino who were playing outside the Nokia Theatre. (Mariachis 4, Pan Flutes 4).

The Times Square Alliance 'Best Of The Buskers' series (tagline - "Grate Performances") had a show by Bronx-based breakdance crew NYC Transformerz.

And then of course, there was Times Square's famous and ubiquitous Naked Cowboy, always a hit with the tourists.





Today's Songlist:

Marriage Made In Hollywood - Paul Brady (first time I've played it since I did it for BuskerCam a couple of weeks back)
Who'll Stop The Rain - John Fogerty
Atlantic City - Bruce Springsteen
Leap Of Faith - Bruce Springsteen

In all, I only played for about 20 minutes and got $1.60. My running total is now $53.49.

As I've been playing and riding the subway, I've seen posters for this charity, (I particularly liked the one that read 'If there's one bank that needs a bailout it's the food bank') and since I wanted to give any money I made to an organization that specifically works around poverty, children and New York City, I think they fit the bill.

So whatever final total I make during the project, I'll hand it over to the Robin Hood Foundation.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

'A little prestidigitation...'



The noise of the trains on either side of the platform doesn't seem to bother Thalys Peterson Quaresma. When the guitarist is playing he is engrossed in his technique, as his fingers deftly navigate the fretboard.

Originally from the town of Curitiba in southern Brazil, Thalys came to New York about a year and a half ago and says he has been playing on the Subway for about eight months. He tried out for a MUNY spot this year.

He'd attracted quite a crowd today on the 34th Street platform and says that even though he plays sometimes on the mezzanine at 14th Street, he likes playing here because the "people wait longer". I watched him for a while as he ran through a wide repertoire mixing standards like "Ipanema" and "Autumn Leaves" with what I guess were Brazilian tunes, all of which displayed his skill.

He said he doesn't have any other musical gigs at the moment, but is always on the lookout for opportunities, even though he's enjoying playing on the platforms. He's definitely worth catching if you get a chance.



'O barulho dos trens que circulavam nos dois lados da plataforma parecia não incomodar Thalys Peterson Quaresma. O guitarrista é absorvido em sua técnica, quando, ao tocar, seus dedos habilidosamente deslizam pela cordas.

Nascido em Curitiba, sul do Brasil, Thalys conta que chegou em NY ha cerca de um ano e meio atrás e que está tocando no metrô faz oito meses. Ele tentou uma vaga para a MUNY este ano.

Ele atraiu uma quantidade significante de gente hoje na plataforma da estaçao 34th Street e disse que, embora toque algumas vezes no mezanino da 14th Street, gosta mais de tocar aqui, porque as pessoas ficam por mais tempo. Passei um tempo assistindo Thalys tocar, durante o qual ele apresentou um repertorio diversificado, como "Ipanema" e "Autumn Leaves", o que acho que eram musicas brasileiras, e, em todas elas, ele demonstrou sua habilidade.

Ele disse nao ter nenhum trabalho com musica no momento, mas esta sempre à procura de oportunidades, muito embora esteja gostando de tocar nas plataformas. Vale muito a pena ouví-lo, se você tiver a chance.'

(muito obrigado, Debora x)


*************************************


Talking with Thalys reminded me that the Mannes Guitar Seminar started yesterday at the Music College of New York's New School. The theme is 'The guitar in the Americas' and some top players are lined up. If you're in the city and get a chance to go, it runs through Sunday.

*************************************


It was one of those 'lets choose a station at random' days today, so I ended up at 77th Street, the Lenox Hill Hospital stop. Not much going for it, apart from some nice mosaics, but it's certainly not the greatest to play at. The platform's narrow, and because there's only one exit, everyone comes the one way off the leading cars. Even so, there are some quiet moments where you can be heard across on the other platform.

A word of caution though; the station, like others on the 4/5/6 uptown, has no interchange between uptown and downtown platforms, so if you want to cross over, you have to exit to the street and enter the station - and pay - again.

I had one woman notice a sticker on my guitar case and ask if I was Irish. "Yeah, we're everywhere," I just said. She gave me a dollar. Probably for the whole famine thing. Running total $51.89.

Today's songlist:

Knockin' On Heaven's Door - Bob Dylan
Secret Garden - Bruce Springsteen
I Want You Back - Jackson Five
People Get Ready - Curtis Mayfield
Here Comes The Sun - Beatles
Lawyers Guns And Money - Warren Zevon
Tracks Of My Tears - Smokey Robinson
Drift Away - Dobie Gray
Rosalita - Bruce Springsteen
Peace Love And Understanding - Elvis Costello

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

'Long forgotten words or ancient melodies..'



Salieu Suso is from The Gambia in Western Africa and has been playing the Kora, a traditional stringed instrument, since he was eight years old. He has an established reputation as a Griot or djeli - poet or storyteller - and has been an official MUNY artist since 2007.

As I came up to speak with him, he was talking to a guy called David, a guitar player who, coincidentally, had just finished his PhD on African music. "I've written about you, and I've never met you until now," David told him, with obvious excitement.

David told me that Gambian music and musicians started showing up in New York in the 1990s and that there is now a thriving African music scene that brings them together.

I bought Salieu's CD 'The Source of Goodness' and watched him play for a while. I'd never seen a Kora in the flesh before, although I'd heard it on albums by Malian guitarist Ali Farka Toure.

Salieu gave out a flyer with the CD, where he writes about his 21-string instrument - the strings used to be made of braided antelope hide - and I'll just quote from it here, since it's a pretty good description:

"The Kora is made from half a gourd or calabash with a hardwood post that runs through it to which the 21 and anchor strings are attached to the playing strings to an iron ring bored through the base of the Kora's hardwood neck. The calabash is covered with a cowhide that is stretched over the open side of the half calabash, and then left in the sun to dry tight and hold the hand posts in place."

The soundhole was where the royalty and other audience members would put their coins when they were pleased by a performance.

There's a video here of Salieu talking about and playing the instrument.

I noticed it was amplified, using I guess, a guitar-type pickup inside, and it made me think of how inter-connected ethnic stringed instruments are, regardless of where they emerged; for example the Celtic harp, and then the connection to the Bouzouki that traditional Irish musicians like Andy Irvine and Donal Lunny have made in recent years.

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I was meeting some friends for lunch in midtown today, so I played at 53rd and Lex on the uptown 6 line. I found a nice spot, the acoustics were perfect and the people were very good-natured. One guy asked me in great detail about the capo I was using, and another guitar player who was done for the day told me the "downtown platform's better, man.."

Someone else asked if I gave lessons, and still another person dropped a lucky clover charm in the case along with some coins. I had a really good time there. I played for about an hour and three-quarters straight and at the end there was $8.72 in the case.

That brings our running total over $50 - $50.89 to be exact, which means that I'm finally ahead of the the cost of my Metrocard! Also this week, I learned that I've passed 1,000 visitors, and - encouragingly - the average time that people are spending on this blog is just under seven minutes.

This is great because if you assume that returning visitors are only reading the latest post, then people who are coming for the first time are reading a lot of pages. Or watching a lot of video. Either way, I'm very grateful for the support and happy you're here.

Today's Songlist:

Knockin' On Heaven's Door - Bob Dylan
The Rising - Bruce Springsteen
Peace Love And Understanding - Elvis Costello
People Get Ready - Curtis Mayfield
Barricades Of Heaven - Jackson Browne
Every Breath You Take - The Police
May You Never - John Martyn
You're The One That I Want - The Beautiful South
Life In Technicolor - Coldplay
Brown Eyed Girl - Van Morrison
Waiting For My Real Life To Begin - Colin Hay
Tonight Will Be Fine - Teddy Thompson
Crazy Love - Van Morrison
The Ties That Bind - Bruce Springsteen
The White Hare - Seth Lakeman
Rosalita - Bruce Springsteen
Secret Garden - Bruce Springsteen

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A friend of mine, former bandmate and former FT colleague in London had his first busking experience on the Underground today. Before he went out he Tweeted that it was the "scariest thing he's ever done," so I really hope it went well. Maybe we can organize some kind of transatlantic video busking linkup like Bowie and Jagger did for Live Aid.

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On this day in 1989, it was announced that for the first time CDs were outselling vinyl albums. I'm going to write - probably this coming weekend - about how we learn about and consume music today and what it means for those who make it, sell it, or just listen to it.

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Whatever you might think about Michael Jackson or today's memorial ceremony, when his young daughter breaks down when talking about him, you're reminded that we often lose sight of who's really affected most by this sort of loss.

Monday, July 6, 2009

'Keep it on ice while you're lining up your long shot..'

"It's real hard to keep up with the guys who do this all the time."

So says a trumpet player that I bumped into today on the 59th Street platform. We spoke briefly as he was getting on a train and I didn't get his name, but he told me he was on his way to his regular job as a 3-11 security guard. He just uses the platform to practice. I'll run into him again and talk more, since I know when and where he'll be.

"I play seven days a week," he said, "but it's just when I'm on my way to my real job".

And it struck me, there are so many crossovers and parallels between this subterranean life and the real world; between busking and blogging; as well as between busking and the news media.

It's almost as if we're an alter ego, a different persona when we're below ground. Like we have something 'on hold' that has no place in the surface world, but that we can explore to our heart's content down here.

Buskers and bloggers both do what they do in the hope that they'll touch someone, anyone, in the passing crowd, who might like what they hear and reward them as a result.

Buskers and bloggers both depend on feedback one way or another, whether that's financial, through a PayPal click or a quarter in the case, or whether it's just an email of encouragement, or a smile and a "yeah" from a passer-by.

Buskers and bloggers both hope they can resonate with enough people to form a "community" of fans which, regardless of its size, helps sustain the content producer by its support.

Both groups have to learn to deal with abuse in various forms and usually they feel they're at odds with the establishment, one way or another.

And of course, there are different audiences and attitudes between buskers who "freelance" on the platforms or trains and those who have the official "imprimatur" of a permit.

One group gets to display itself at the prime spots, gets to play directly to a more lucrative audience, gets to sell their product with an "official endorsement". The other group depends entirely on the kindness and generosity of the passing crowd (or in the case of those who play on the trains themselves, a captive audience).

When I talked to Simon Owens of Bloggasm recently about this blog, he asked me about the parallels between buskers and the news media.

It's a clever, er, track to pursue.

He said that both were basically giving content away for free, and depending on that to attract an audience, out of which they could generate other revenue streams - like selling CDs or a newspaper archive.

I said that in both worlds, quality eventually rises to the top, and if people think something is worth paying for, or they need it enough, they'll pay for it.

Both groups employ marketing strategies by using the 'free' content/appearances as a way of generating further work, or buiding their reputation.

Where established news organizations might sell access based on little more than a name, buskers would sell, say, music lessons based on skills they show off in performance. It's all about leveraging whatever unique features you have and making the most of them.

I'm pretty sure though, that buskers have to apologize for their lessons less frequently.

And, so far at least, I think people aren't buying newspapers out of pity.

Since I've been writing the Beat Below, I've had a lot of emails from people who moved away from New York years ago, saying that one of the things they really miss is the music on the subway and they're happy to have been reconnected to it through the blog. So for them, I'm a nice, quirky little addition to the totality of their cultural consumption.

I'd also point them in the direction of the Saw Lady's excellent blog on subway musicians. She's been both busking and blogging a lot longer than I have.

I also attract readers who're coming from a journalistic perspective, given my background and interests. While there's quite a crossover between the various worlds of music, New York and journalism, there isn't really a big enough audience for whom it's the most important thing to ever make my humble little blog anything more than just a sauce around the edges of my readers' information diet.

That's actually fine by me. I'm having fun doing it, and I hope you're enjoying reading it. And that's all that really matters.


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It was another beautiful day in the city today, so I went to play at the 5th Avenue R/W line stop; which has an exit at 59th Street, a stopping off point for people on their way to enjoy an afternoon in Central Park.

It's a noisy station, to be fair, but I positioned myself by the steps leading out of the platform and got a few 'slots' where there weren't trains in either direction. Even so, I played for nearly an hour and people just walked right past. I was smiling and everything.

And no songs about fascists today... well, just the one.

I usually don't mind at stations where I don't make any money; but here, the people have long enough to hear you as they're coming along the platform to decide whether they like you or not, and easily long enough to get out their wallet or fumble for some change. So it's like they're making a specific choice to just walk on by.

Maybe I suck. Or maybe they're just pre-occupied and a bit tight. I prefer to think it's not the former.

After that sort of rejection, I decided I'd go back to Canal Street. The folks there have never let me down and here's actually the more important thing - and maybe it's a musician thing, I don't know: I really don't have a problem if someone doesn't put money in the case if they groove a bit, or smile, or just say "keep it goin' man"; that sort of thing means a lot, and I always get some of that sort of love at Canal Street.

Today was no exception. I felt better after leaving there. I gave more directions than usual (it still amazes me how people will just walk up to you in the middle of a song and say: "Does the M train run on this platform?" when I'm standing under a sign that says it doesn't) and I helped a woman up the stairs with a baby carriage. I ended up with only $1.50 in the case, but a lot of people were nodding along and subtly rockin' out; and after the earlier station, that was all the reward I needed.

Fifth Avenue set:

Waiting On The World To Change - John Mayer
People Get Ready - Curtis Mayfield
I Want You Back - Jackson Five
Never Tire Of The Road/All You Fascists Bound To Lose - Andy Irvine/Woody Guthrie
Refugee - Tom Petty
Peace Love And Understanding - Elvis Costello
Bad Karma - Warren Zevon
Lawyers Guns And Money - Warren Zevon

Canal Street set:

Here Comes The Sun - Beatles
Lawyers Guns And Money - Warren Zevon
Secret Garden - Bruce Springsteen
Knockin' On Heaven's Door - Bob Dylan
People Get Ready - Curtis Mayfield
I Want You Back - Jackson Five
Long Walk Home - Bruce Springsteen
You're The World To Me - David Gray
The Promised Land - Bruce Springsteen
Peace Love And Understanding - Elvis Costello
The Boys Of Summer - Don Henley
Waiting For My Real Life To Begin - Colin Hay
Rosalita - Bruce Springsteen



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The always excellent blog 'Play A Little Guitar' which I heartily recommend, has again shuffled its iPod and come up with some great tunes. What's on yours? Let me know in the sidebar.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Birthday, America.



I wanted to do something special for July 4th and I can't think of anything more special than spending the day with family.

My wife and I went out to Riis Beach in the Rockaways this morning for some quiet time, then we all drove down to Pennsylvania to surprise her mother and some of the rest of our relatives, including my brother-in-law, recently home safely from Afghanistan, and our youngest nephew, who's just starting to walk.

We've a lot to celebrate this year and we had a great time, just as I hope you all did.

After dinner - lots of good food and good local beer - we all sat out on the back porch and sang songs. I love being surrounded by family and whatever I do, I can only ever give them back a small part of the kindness they've given me.

The nicest thing of all? When I was talking about the project earlier in the evening, they'd asked me how much I'd made on my best day so far. Just less than nine dollars, I said.

When I packed up tonight, there were exactly nine dollars in the case.

On the way back to New York, we watched from the car as fireworks lit up the sky at towns all along the route until finally the red, white and blue lights on the Empire State Building let us know we were home.

And much as I'll always love where I grew up, this is really home now.


Party Songlist:

This Land Is Your Land - Woody Guthrie
When You Say Nothing At All - Alison Krauss
Here Comes The Sun - Beatles
Long Walk Home - Bruce Springsteen
The Rising - Bruce Springsteen
I Want You Back - Jackson Five
Underneath The Stars - Kate Rusby
Magnolia Street - Catie Curtis
Good Riddance - Green Day
Walking In Memphis - Marc Cohn
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard - Paul Simon
Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters - Elton John
Sweet Home Alabama - Lynyrd Skynyrd
Run - Snow Patrol


There were many star turns tonight that could have made BuskerCam, but this is my stepdaughter Chelsea, singing 'Magnolia Street' by Catie Curtis. However you spent your July 4th, I wish you peace and happiness.

Friday, July 3, 2009

'We're all a part of the rhythm nation..'



"You wouldn't think I'd only been playing for a few months, would ya?" says Jimmy Holmes to his appreciative audience on the 34th Street platform.

"Yeah, about 650 months," he smiles.

The native New Yorker says his father was a big band drummer, and that he's played with lots of talented people over the years. Now, he plays on the Subway "a couple of days a week".

"I like to come down here and practice; the acoustics are good and there's plenty of people." And he pretty much gets left alone. "The cops move you along when they have to."

One passenger gave him an orange, and another passed him a moist towelette to wipe his face. It's hot anyway down on that platform, let alone the effort he's putting in. "I feel sorry for his drums," one woman said.

34th is just one of Jimmy's haunts.

He listed the other stations he plays at and said: "They all have good acoustics, and a good number of people passing by," he says. When I asked him about the logistics of transporting his kit, he just said: "You'll notice those stations all have elevators too. So does my building."

"All the drums fit inside each other, and then I have this," he says, pointing to a dolly.

Like Mike Alaska, Jimmy's sound follows you along the tunnels and leads you to a pretty cool rhythmic reward. There's not that many platform players who get a round of applause when they finish.

Jimmy and Mike both do.

*****************************




Since it was the start of the holiday weekend I figured I'd try and play somewhere there might be a few tourists today, so I went to 34th Street. After I listened to Jimmy playing, I moved downstairs to the R/N/Q/W platforms where there's almost as many people waiting, but it's pretty noisy. It was so hot today, too, that I broke a string.

So I ended up playing for about 40 minutes, no money, then headed home as Raices were starting up at the MUNY spot on the Mezzanine upstairs.

Today's Songlist:

Knockin' On Heaven's Door - Bob Dylan
You're The World To Me - David Gray
People Get Ready - Curtis Mayfield
Waiting On The World To Change - John Mayer
I Want You Back - Jackson Five
Refugee - Tom Petty
You're The One That I Want - The Beautiful South version
(there's not that many songs you can start with a broken string, but I found one..)
Get It On - Marc Bolan

I'll try and do something special for Independence Day tomorrow, but so far am not sure what. Have a great weekend in any case.

*****************************

Ran into some more Mariachis on the train today - didn't get their name, but they were gracious enough to pose for a photo with a kidnapped gnome. One of the guys was playing a beautiful guitarrón or chitarrone - a deep, resonant Mexican six-string bass - which you can hear pretty well on the tape.



So far the score is Mariachis 4, Pan Flutes 3. Let's see how it ends up.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

'If you ask for a rise it's no surprise that they're giving none away'



Time to venture into the belly of the beast, the heart of the capitalist system; or at least one of its clogged arteries.

Despite what goes on above ground, Wall Street seems no richer than any other station - and certainly it proved that way today. I played for about an hour with no bailout.

It's also not that pleasant a station to be at - only one line runs through it, so there's no interchange areas, plus because the platform is meant to move high numbers of passengers at rush hours, the entrance area is especially large, so the ends of the platform are quite narrow.

Everything's designed to speed happy workers efficiently topside so they can get to their cubicles as quickly as possible. Can't waste a moment in driving that economy wherever it's going these days.

So with folks not spending any time on the platforms, and trains coming through pretty frequently, it's probably not a surprise that I didn't land a bonus today. Nothing at all to do with my choice of songs; oh no, that can't be it.

I wasn't going to put up with striking out today. I've had enough sessions by now with nothing in the case, so I headed back down to Canal Street, which hasn't let me down so far. I played for another hour down there and ended up with $4. Running total is now $33.17.

Not quite enough to get me dinner with a Washington Post reporter, but we're heading in the right direction.

Wall Street set:

Lawyers Guns And Money - Warren Zevon
Money (That's What I Want) - Beatles
How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live - Bruce Springsteen
The Ghost Of Tom Joad - Bruce Springsteen
Bad Karma - Warren Zevon
Keep On Rockin' In The Free World - Neil Young
The Times They Are A-Changin' - Bob Dylan
There Is Power In A Union/All You Fascists Bound To Lose - Billy Bragg/Woody Guthrie
My Beautiful Reward - Bruce Springsteen
You Got Lucky - Tom Petty

Canal Street set:

Lawyers Guns And Money - Warren Zevon
I Want You Back - Jackson Five
Waitin' On The World To Change - John Mayer
Roxanne - The Police
Knockin' On Heaven's Door - Bob Dylan
Johnny Strikes Up The Band - Warren Zevon
Rosalita - Bruce Springsteen
Rise - Eddie Vedder

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In what seems to be developing into my quest to track down every pan flute-related act on successive days, I ran into MUNY veterans Agua Clara who were playing at the 42nd Street Mezzanine.

(Apologies for the poor definition on this video - that particular area isn't very well lit, and the passing traffic obscures the band even more. I also managed to miss out an entire guitarist stage left)



They weren't using backing tapes and sounded pretty good, in a pan-flute sort of way. And while not many passengers were stopping, they certainly have a very enthusiastic pitchman hawking their CDs.

At Canal Street, I again ran into David the hand percussionist and we chatted a little - all the while he was banging his chest and knees with tape-wrapped hands. I asked if I could take some video and he just said "maybe another time, man". He was getting plenty of traffic today. I also saw Calebe Arruda again playing violin, this time at 34th Street. He gets better every time I hear him.

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