I went busking on Saturday, per the dictum of the results of my Discomfort Zone vote, in which a two-hour performance by yours truly at Pioneer Courthouse Square edged out attending a six-hour kiddie concert at the Children's Museum. Well chosen, Blogtownies! This turned the Discomfort Zone into something a little different than it's been in the past: Instead of sending a Mercury writer to a previously established event, this event was created out of thin air, solely to make me discomfortable and possibly the object of ridicule. If it didn't get picked, it wouldn't have happened.
But it did! And so on a hot, sunny Saturday afternoon, I packed up my guitar and headed downtown. On the way to the Square, I spied a couple other buskers plying their trade on the sidewalks, including a violinist with long, graying hair; he was a real pro, and a great player. I felt like a bit of an interloper to be busking on essentially a dare, when there were legit musicians actually out there trying to make a buck. But Blogtown readers must be appeased! So it was on to the Square. A couple problems, though: First of all, it is illegal to actually busk in Pioneer Courthourse Square. Playing anywhere on the bricks is not allowed. Second of all, a weekend-long Italian festival had taken over the entire block, jamming the entire square with cannelloni, the European rhythms of the EuroRhythms, and, uh, cannelloni? (Italians are not known for their food, are they?)
So I set up as close to the Square as I could get, just outside at SE 6th and Yamhill, in front of the old courthouse. This was a high traffic area with plenty of weekend pedestrians and busses passing through the bus mall, not to mention the frequent running MAX trains, which often drowned out the feeble acoustic plucking with electric whirrs and trolley dings. Good friend of the Mercury, one messr. Kreitler, volunteered to come along, and he set up shop beside me, and for two solid hours, we played acoustic guitars at disinterested passers-by.
I think people were expecting me to be out of my element, but I've played music plenty of times in front of people before, and I have actually even busked before. I'm not a pro, but even without rehearsing, I knew enough songs to pad out a two-hour set. Kreitler and I have played gigs on quite a few occasions, and on Saturday we managed to pull off a few original tunes, a couple Neil Young covers (including "Like a Hurricane"—remember, this was on Saturday), a couple Stones tunes, Leadbelly's "Goodnight Irene" (get it? hurricane!), and some other folk and country songs. There were a couple weird interactions with people, but nothing weirder than what you'd get just from spending two hours downtown.
First was an ancient, tottering couple: an old man and a small old lady who clung tightly to his arm without saying a word. They approached us, probably without really listening to us, and the old man proceeded to talk my ear off for a good 10 minutes about Tommy Emmanuel, an Australian guitarist who he obviously thought we could learn a thing or two from. I learned that Emmanuel will be in Portland in January at the RiverCity bluegrass festival and will also do a show at Loaves and Fishes, and he apparently has some instructional CDs for sale as well! The old man finished his pitch and doddered off with the silent old lady.
Another interaction was with a friendly man of the streets, pushing a small cart and going nowhere in particular. He stopped and said he liked our sound. At the time, I think we were not playing an actual song but just futzing around on a few chords. He also suggested we move it on down to the waterfront, because there was more action there. He held a VitaminWater bottle half-full of a slightly transparent, bronze-ish liquid, and he shuffled around on the sidewalk as we played. Before moseying off, the man wandered over to Kreitler mid-song, leaned over to his ear, and offered him a hit of liquor. Kreitler declined, but in lieu of him actually giving us any money, we appreciated the fellow's generosity.
Some friends came by as well—to well-wish, or laugh, or something; a couple requests got called out (Hall & Oates got a polite turn-down), and a couple dollars were thrown into the case. But for the most part I was playing to people on the street who could have cared less what we were doing. All in all, it was actually a little boring. There were no interactions with cops, or fake cops; no turf wars with homeless people or other buskers. People seemed not to care one way or the other that we were there, although a woman stopped us mid-song to ask for directions to that place with all the trailers that they sell food out of? Do you know where that is? Like a big parking lot full of them? She and her family wandered off in search of food carts, not deigning to throw a measly dime into our woefully empty case, despite interrupting us in the middle of a song.
After two full hours, we'd made a grand total of $3.45. And truthfully, only 50 cents of that came from people we didn't know. Not exactly a lucrative haul. We packed up shop and left the square. On the way out, I passed that violinist again. Remembering full well that whatever meager earnings I managed to scrounge were intended to pay for drinks at the next Blogtown meet-up, I placed the tiny wad of cash in his violin case. "God bless you," he said.
Here is a video, as required. I am wearing a silly plaid nightcap with a pom-pom, because the stipulations dictated that I wear an "odd hat." The hat may be the most interesting thing about this video, and you can't really even see it. Posting this video here makes me far more discomfortable than I felt for a single minute on Saturday. Enjoy it, Blogtown.
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