Sunday, June 17, 2012

Boulder 4

It’s the weekend. Dress up. People are walking the ped mall as something to do, not to get to a destination, so be presentable and sing out.

Find a good spot. The piano players are out--as are many buskers, so you might have to continue farther west toward the mountains, your as-yet-uncharted block in this town. There is a payphone there, which you hope is out of commission, and it will make a good backstop. Keep an extra eye on your stuff today--since you went for the dress instead of jeans, you have no pockets.

About the dress… It’s a nice touch since this is Sunday, and so many people are out that this is like a real show. But be mindful each time you stoop down for your water, or to protect your dollars from the wind.

And there will be wind. Although it batters your voice for the first few numbers, it provides a bit of relief from the 80-something heat. Stay in the shade. There is a bank of benches near that food cart, far enough away from the payphone that you’re not technically interrupting the cellphone users on the benches, but later your audience will assemble there.

They stand, the lean on trees, and one by one by one by one they come forward with dollar bills that stack up and flutter at your feet. Keep putting them back under the coins, but know that you might lose a few. You have still broken your record.

Many people sit and listen for multiple songs, and it’s worth way more than the bucks dropped by passers-by. At least four people will come and talk with you. Long-Forgotten Fairytale is going over well with families and young girls. They don’t know how brilliantly Stephin Merritt can craft a screed to an ex; they know only that you said ‘castle’ and ‘princess.’ One mom tells you that the small pink child to her right wanted to thank you herself but was too shy. But that girl is not too shy to stare and stare.

A photographer comes by on the second round of Wilder Than Her. You wish beyond wishing that you had more water or breath or finger power, but you will have to tell your audience that this is your last song. They don’t know that it was also your first, over eighty minutes ago. Keep singing, and when you are packing up, be careful with that enormous pile of cash. People are watching.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Denver 4

It’s getting hotter. Busking season is almost over, unless you get creative or start working the morning transit crunch. If you are already sweaty by the time you get to your spot, you are going to need a new spot by the summer solstice.

Use your cardinal directions. If you choose well you will be in the sun for only ten minutes, your case for only another ten.  The earth is turning in an eastward direction, so use this to your advantage.

Zack from Children International agrees to let you share his spot in front of Barnes & Noble, where you are both banking on some sort of stereotype about book store customers. You will both be wrong, although you fare better than Zack in the first five minutes. A quarter lands in your case during the first verse of Wilder Than Her. It always seems like people know that song, but you’re not conversing with the coin-givers, so you wouldn’t know. You know only to keep singing.

The free mall shuttle stops right in front of you every two and a half minutes. The doors stay open for approximately ten seconds, during which time you might catch someone’s eye or ear. People deboarding generally turn one direction or the other, but don’t be surprised if someone gets right off and comes forward with a dollar. It may be a child, and she will very carefully place the dollar—enormous in her hand—beneath the rock in your case. Luckily, you are at a break after the second verse of that Dylan song, so you can thank her.

But when a filmmaker comes and drops his card in your case, and is trying to explain what he does, you are full throttle in the chorus of Middle of the Night. You feel lucky that on its first time out busking this song has already garnered some change, a few glances, and Big Jon Ian’s card, but you’ve forgotten the lyrics. Keep playing, the words will come soon.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Boulder 3

Do not be afraid to stand right in the middle of the ped mall, a few steps from the Beans & Co. food cart. It is overcast, and many of Boulder's buskers are not out today. This could also mean fewer pedestrians, but give it some time. Within the hour you will have a sweaty upper lip, a pile of dollars in your case, and a guitar that's losing its tune in the afternoon sun. The clouds in Colorado do not last long.

Notice the kids again. They are drawn to you, even if they sometimes have a perplexed look. One will approach with a dollar and then shyly run back behind his grandmother's knee. She is coaxing him closer and closer to the case. Even after he drops the buck and runs, she sends him back—motioning to put the bill under the rock so it will not blow away. And although he cannot be more than five, you belt the chorus of Teenagers Kick Our Butts, because one day he might remember it.

Do not underestimate how lucrative an original song can be. "Robert Pirsig" is like a beacon, and by the time you close your eyes and sing the words "motorcycle maintenance" to the heavens, three different potbellied white men have approached with money, their pony tails blowing in the wind. One of them drops a wad and you know there are at least two folded bills. Keep singing.

You sing your originals differently, better perhaps, and you are puzzled and thrilled when a family drops a dollar in during General Things. There is no better encouragement for your songwriting. Don't overdo it, but know that when you say "Liz Phair," at least one person will look back behind himself (even if he doesn't toss in any cash).

Men give more than women, and the women who do give are all much older or have babies in their arms. No one who looks like you will give money. Young women in packs pass by, maybe even shouting "Hippy!" but they need their dollars for other things. Businessmen in pairs will walk past, but it is only the solo, maudlin entrepreneur, not late for a meeting yet, who lifts the rock in your case to add his 100 cents. People, after all, have places to go, things to do.