Sunday, March 11, 2007

Busker Vitality

New York City's subway buskers are today in a new golden age. It took several years for the busker trade to revive after the Guiliani administration's picky attitude about everything and once revived it has continued to evolve. Today it's special. All major Manhattan subway stations and significant platform interchanges have activity now. The quality is so good and varied that it seems to be self policing. No self respecting individual/individuals would set up unless they had talent. This is New York.

The extent of this evolution became apparent several months ago. I have always been one to wait for the next train when something special is happening in a subway performance, and that choice has been made more frequently in the last year. What had never happened before was being on one platform headed North listening to something good, and then peering across double tracks, seeing something else really good, walking up the stairs and across to go to the South platform for another performance. That was a first. It happened again today.

It's not just quality music; it's not just variety(blues, jazz, country, international etc.); it's also the incredibly unusual permutations, if that's a word that can work here. How about a Japanese man playing acoustic rhythm and blues guitar, some kind of cymbals tied around both ankles, and wearing some sort of Merlin outfit with stars on his shirt and socks. Or a tall young Carribean woman with wild hair tap dancing on a board to a rocking reggae guitar and an overturned can beat. Maybe a slight white Brooklyn kid in a porkpie hat playing Mississippi John Hurt. Can you imagine an overweight double amputee veteran in a wheel chair singing unaccompanied in a way that you can only hear on an Otis Redding album. And the great Central American bands with their pipes and all are now going fusion at times it seems, having seen a harmonica player with a Little Walter sound join in for a few songs under Grand Central two weeks ago.

There's something happening here...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

New York - it's a wonderful town!
I totally agree with everything you said. I just saw the 'Saw Lady' today at the Union Square subway station (she has a blog, too: ) - amazing. And what about Josh, the juggler (who also has a blog but I can't remember the URL now), and the harp guy, and...there are so many wonderful performers there. I hope the MTA never bans performing in the subway!

6:22 PM  

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