It was some summer long ago, back at Long Island University. I was up to Newton, Mass, right near Boston, visiting John “Midnight” Ryder, who it turned out years later would rise to local renown, how ever briefly, with the crackerjack rock out Face To Face. Me and Midnight, ourselves, at one point, threw pick-up band together for a few weeks at a pretty decent hole in the wall, The Rusty Nail. As we went and got on the subway, I saw guys on different platforms — gals, too — playing and singing with their guitar cases open for passersby to drop money into. Y’ didn’t do that in New York City. Cops would roust you. Maybe give you a ticket. You get lippy and all your guitar’ll be good for after that is kindling.
These performers were perfectly legal, licensed in fact. You went down to the city hall, paid for a permit and, just like that, you weren’t begging or panhandling. You were, just like a taxi driver or somebody, a freelance professional. A lot of ’em were pretty good. Which didn’t really surprise me, not after John got done taking me to some of Boston’s clubs. Any night of the week you could find a crew cooking like someone’s broke stove and a venue on the order of, say, The Cabooze. A hall in which to get lit as a Christmas tree and watch a blues band raise hell three different kinds of hell. That’s all we saw while I was there, blues bands. Playing behinds off. Some of them, when they had nothing better to do or needed to pick up a few bucks, could be found on one or more of the subway lines. I don’t think I heard a musician in all the time I was there — for either visit with Ryder — not one who didn’t have strong chops.
I’ve seen it done here in the Twin Cities. Well, Minneapolis, anyway. I doubt those performers you can catch outside shows at the State Theater, the Orpheum sometimes and mostly First Avenue have licenses. But, the cops don’t bug them. Never stopped long enough to see how much money they make, but, have listened long enough to know that, just like Boston, the Twin Cities is awash in quite capable talent. In fact, I guess, when someone has chops, it’s — license or no — not panhandling so much as it is sidewalk performing.
To tell the truth, toying with the idea of going downtown Minneapolis and doing it myself. Hell, I play Corner Coffee for tips. Why not a few square space somewhere there’s bound to be foot traffic? If nothing else, it’s practice — where somebody else besides my cats Butch & Sundance can enjoy it. The more I think about it the more inclined I am to do it. Shucks, at the same time I can hawk them live CDs that Corner Coffee records as back-up, in case you don’t make anything in tips.
Yep. Gonna give it consideration. So, don’t be the least bit surprised if you come across me crooning to thin air outside a department store. Don’t be the least bit shy with a buck, either.
Should prove to be an interesting experience. Will let you know how it turns out.