Monthly Archives: June 2015

#21. Mississippi…and Failing Jun 26, 2015 - 8:03 pm

My previous outing wasn’t the greatest, so I was looking to mix it up a bit. I loaded the gear into my car and drove to a nice little restaurant on Mississippi Ave. for a pre-show meal. I wasn’t sure where I’d end up, but there’s a spot on Alberta near the Radio Room that looks promising.

It was blazing hot, though, so I knew I’d have to wait until at least 8pm before trying to play music out on the street. As I was eating alone (not a pre-show ritual or anything, just Señora Demasiado was out of town) I finished a little early, about 7:45pm, so I just wandered around the neighborhood a little.

The sidewalks were pretty crowded, and I began to wonder about playing music right around here. It’s tough, though, because the sidewalk is pretty narrow on Mississippi; I couldn’t just set up any old place. Also, a lot of the ground floor businesses, although closed for the day, have tenants living upstairs, and I don’t want to bother anyone in their own residence.

Then I noticed the light bulb shop (Sunlan Lighting). It’s kind of famous for being cramped, the quippy woman behind the counter who rings up your purchase, and the Lego exhibits in the window. They were closed for the day, and it looks like the place upstairs is just their storage, i.e., no apartments. Perfect.

I set out my benches on the sidewalk, shaded from the setting sun by the clothing drop box, and got my kit together. A couple of songs in, a couple of friends I alerted actually showed up(!) and one even brought a third person. That’s already more audience than I’m used to (on average) so I was well ahead of the game when other people started to hang around.

A crowd of spectators kind of feeds on itself, and I generally had a half-dozen people at any time watching for the next hour. I think I was playing pretty well, and in spite of the heat I was putting on a good, sweaty show. My spot was obscured a little from Mississippi pedestrians until they were right on the corner, and I noticed a couple of times people expressing surprise that it was just one person making all this sound.

And suddenly all eyes were off me. A weird motorcycle-car collision happened, where a motorcycle apparently surged forward and crashed into a car. The motorcycle seemed to get the worst of it, though, and sparks flew. I refrained from playing while the rider’s condition was uncertain, but he got up and pushed his bike to the side of the street and a few minutes later I slowly resumed.

Some of my favorite moments of the evening: the man who made a U-turn on his bike and came back to listen; the number of people who were brave enough to sit on one of my benches–it’s oddly difficult getting people to sit down, hot weather or not; and an old friend indulgently tolerating my near butchering of one of his favorite songs, which I hardly play and really should have brushed up on before inflicting on an unsuspecting sidewalk.

But my absolute favorite moment was seeing a police car roll up, lights flashing. This may seem weird, especially after my previous encounter with Portland’s finest. But this time, the police were here to deal with the motorcycle-car crash aftermath. And as a long-time street musician often accused of “disturbing the peace,” I have to tell you, there’s not any much better feeling than seeing the police arrive to deal with someone else!

Well, I’m not one to push my luck. I played a few more songs as dusk settled in, and packed up. Then I had a beer with a couple of buddies, and headed home for the night. Mississippi…and Succeeding!

#20. Alberta and 21st Ave. Jun 19, 2015 - 7:25 am

This was kind of a quick spur of the moment show. I’d had a pretty busy week, and was feeling a little tired–especially my legs–so I was curious if I had the stamina to put on a 30 minute show after all that.

I got to the old familiar spot around 8pm, and realized it had been nearly a month since my last show. This dawned on me when I realized I’d forgotten my old buddies, the benches, and suggested I’d either had a worse week than I thought, or I was just a bit out of practice with the whole street performing thing.

Well, I’ve played a lot of shows without benches, too, so this wasn’t going to stop me. I began playing and everything felt okay. On a warm Portland evening in the Alberta District, there were plenty of pedestrians passing by. It was a pretty typical mix of people: couples on dates walking by me on the far side of the sidewalk; small nuclear families letting Junior take a gander as they push his stroller past; groups of teens with a couple of people (sarcastically?) dancing as they go by; iPodders who already have their music, thank you very much; sly video-snappers who walk past without even making eye contact, as they stare at their phone making sure the shot is framed; and the poor unfortunates trying to eat vegan Mexican food at the restaurant across the street.

It’s easy to think you’re wasting your time playing music for strangers because you often get so little feedback. I don’t recall any kind of applause, but I did get a few encouraging smiles, as if to say, “Keep at it…maybe you’ll get better.” So I kept at it about 45 minutes, and called it a night.

I wasn’t in the greatest mood by the end. There’s this thing people do where they walk past, then stop to watch just out of the corner of my eye, while I’d much prefer someone to stand closer and be more like an audience, not so much like a spy sneaking a peek from behind a mailbox (it’s happened). There was also a bit of PWI (photography without interaction) which is a breach of etiquette between spectator and street performer; I’m not looking for money or even applause, but you can at least say something. (Like, maybe ask if it’s okay to photograph?)

I wasn’t in the greatest mood even after a musician (or at least a guy carrying a guitar) stopped for a minute and gave me a thumbs-up, although I did feel a little better. And a nice young man did actually stop during my last song, and he asked about my drum kit, and if I’d made it. I told him no, I didn’t and while this didn’t seem to bother him, I was feeling insecure, like he was re-evaluating what he’d watched and I was coming up short. So I added, “I didn’t make the guitar, either.” I was trying to refute a point he wasn’t even making, trying to prove that it’s not who built the drums, it’s who plays them that matters in the moment. It was awkward, and it made me feel worse than anything else that happened night.

So if you read this, kind young man: I’m sorry for my snippiness. To answer your question more properly, no, I did mot make my own drum kit. I bought it from a fine craftsman who makes folk instruments for a living. Please check out the Farmer Foot Drums website for more information. Or see my FAQ.

I’m going to cool it on Alberta and 21s for a while. Seems like we’re not too sweet on each other lately.