My morning commute to work is punctuated by the Music Under New York performers. Each day of the week a different musician with a different sound and a different vibe.
Luke Ryan has been at this for 30 years. His shtick is to be clever and snarky, to put in your face that you’re walking by him, head down: there’s nearly as much commentary about “putting a little money in the case” as there is music, and a fixture of his guitar case is a sign that reads: “I’M A STREET MUSICIAN…TOO WEIRD TO LIVE TOO MEAN TO DIE. GIVE ME MONEY OR I’LL PLAY MUSIC.” Luke’s “show” is build around that gag and about making you aware that you’re walking by with your head down and your hands in your pockets. My experience, when I put money in Luke’s case, is a bit of guilt, some awareness of separation, a sense of obligation.
On Friday mornings in that same spot, the Ebony Hillbillies rock out with their mean, jumping bluegrass music. It is soulful. It is uplifting. It is joyful and ebullient and raucous. It’s a jolt, it puts a spring in your step. I see the performers smile, not for me, but for themselves. My experience, when I put money in the case, is gratitude that they’ve shared their joy with me, connection, humanity, and perspective.
Yes, the Ebony Hillbillies’ case is always fuller than Luke’s.
And no, this post isn’t about street musicians.