Street Music 1 – The Basics
When I came here to Eureka in late 2006 I was on a mission to do politics and to play music.
One of my musical goals was to take music – my music – to the streets. I think that music is best when it is a shared live experience. Not that other modes of music can’t be valid or enjoyable.
So I spent a few years sitting on the street corners and sidewalks and abandoned loading docks homeless squats and camps playing my guitar and singing. Also the first few years I spent a lot of time in nice weather out on the Eureka Boardwalk, which basically is a big huge abandoned outdoor space. There are almost always some hardy strollers and I hope there will be more. Its a great stroll on a nice day. But here’s the basics of playing music on the streets, from my real life experience. Granted this is a small city, not the big city, and no doubt bigger cities have bigger challenges. But this info will get you started.
First of all you need a street guitar. When I first got here I was determined to play on the street but I had only one guitar. My guitar was a nice Ibanez (less than a year old) acoustic electric. Of course out on the Boardwalk and down by the Free Meal on 3rd st. a guitar like this stood out and I feared it getting jacked or just simply damaged. Even though this is no Martin, its about a 400 dollar guitar …..still, if you want to put on a good street performance you don’t want to be worrying about your guitar. This dilemma actually kept me from playing out for a few weeks in spring 2007 and I was very depressed. I solved the problem by buying a $65 Johnson dreadnaught beater from the no longer there pawn shop on F St.
Well within 6 months I had played the Johnson to pieces but it got me into that autumn and by then I had the concept of “street guitar” down. I found a succession of $100 guitars at Humboldt Bay Traders on 5th st, including a couple of old Yamahas and a Crafter (also $100) that I ended up using for 4 years as my street guitar. You gotta have a street guitar.
You can find a decent sounding and good playing street guitar for $100 if you really want one. Find one or two or three of the best used guitar selections in your area, might be a pawn shop or music store. Some thrift stores occasionally have guitars as well as garage sales. If you are serious about finding a guitar keep an eye on these places too, as well as craigslist. You are looking for a durable, full acoustic (not acoustic electric) guitar, preferably with a gig bag, or hardshell case. Well that is unless you are playing all amplified street music like me now, but most of you aren’t. So keep it simple, unless you need a guitar with a pickup, don’t use one.
You have to visit every guitar store and pawn shop, play every guitar that interests you. Visit every store once a week. Tell the employees that you are looking for a beater guitar that plays and sounds good. Be patient. You will find one. After you find one, keep looking, you will find another from time to time. You will find a supply of guitars that you will be comfortable playing on the street.
You need a tuner. When I hit Eureka I was so old school that my tuner was an A 440 tuning fork that I still had from back in the day. But really. A tuning fork, a pitch pipe. Something low tech for the street is good. A head stock tuner is most practical if you can afford one (prob 5 or 10 bucks at a pawn shop if you are patient or 20 to 30 for a new one.) A tuner is a must, especially if you are a singer too. I learned from a Danny Gatton video (of beer bottle slide guitar fame) that the dial tone on a phone is approx. F# and I think I actually verified it once. Please feel free to comment on this post.
Although many street musicians prefer to stand, I am getting on in years so I sit, so if you are like me you need something to sit on. The cities where we play are not always accommodative of our art, to say the least. I solved that problem for myself with a five gallon bucket salvaged from the dump. It is light, so light that if there is nothing in it I can sling it over the neck of my gig bagged guitar slung on my back and I travel hands free. If I have some weight in the bucket, I carry it by hand. But at destination it serves as my seat, where it is both lighter and more stable than conventional folding stools. Plus of course, it was free salvage, adds to its charm.
Depending on your climate I suggest you have also some kind of head covering almost always. To stay warm when its cool and avoid sunburn in high summer or high noon. And if you are in a colder/damper/cooler climate/season you will need some knit gloves with cut off fingers. These keep your hands warm while allowing you to fret and pick your guitar. It will expand your windows of playing opportunities by several degrees. Go to the dollar store and get some one dollar knit gloves. Snip them off they work just fine.