The sun sets down beneath Waikiki beach as streetlights flicker on. The faint scent of car exhaust, cheap perfume and spf 50 mingle in the air. People come and go to and from restaurants, bars, ABC stores and the beach – some with a sense of purpose, some meandering, everyone out for a good time.
I set up right off an intersection in a little alcove facing a shopping plaza. Almost immediately I realize I’m in over my head. My FX pedals have run out of batteries. My vocal harmonizer is going haywire. And when I do finally get up and running (hobbling more like) it’s with the growing realization that most people really aren’t interested. My tiny speaker isn’t carrying the sound as well as I’d hoped and my semi-soft voice suddenly seems to be in a shouting match with the street traffic and liquored-up loud mouths walking by.
An hour goes by with more and more people streaming past without so much as a glance and my spirits begin to dampen. So this was where having “tough skin” comes in, I think to myself. I’d heard from friends who frequently street perform that you need to develop an indifference towards people ignoring you and keep playing through the ego-killing apathy. All it takes is one or two people connecting with your music to give you the fuel to keep going.
Sure enough, as I begin getting more confident I start seeing some head bobs and thumbs up (even a few dollars thrown in the jar here and there). A couple of drunk dudes yell requests (no, Free Bird is not part of my repertoire). At some point two girls come and sit down on the wall next to me. They listen to around 10 songs, clapping at the end of each and asking if I know certain fave artists. I even let one of them come up and face her fear of performing in front of people by joining me on for couple of tunes. It’s a cool moment.
Towards the end of my set a large preacher man with a bent on hellfire and brimstone comes and sets up too close for comfort, his voice all but drowning out the subtleties of my playing. I decide that’s my cue to skidoo and pack up to begin the long trek back to the parking lot (parking in Honolulu is a nightmare).
Later on the drive home I asked myself ‘was it worth it?’ I think it was. Sure, I made the equivalent of minimum wage and walked what felt like miles draggin’ my wagon full of gear (I’m a poet and I know it). And even though I didn’t attract crowds or receive the standing ovations that I had built up in my mind (mostly because everyone was already standing), at least I DID IT. I experienced something new. I made connections with people that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I gained a much greater respect for the regulars who perform on the streets day in and day out.
So here’s my recommendation to my readers: next time you find yourself walking down a city street and you see someone with a mic and an instrument (or a deck of cards or a silver robot suit) sharing their talents – baring their heart and soul to random strangers – give them a quick moment of your time or a couple bucks (as long as they are actually talented haha and not just a hack singing off-tune karaoke in the best street corner…yeah shade thrown).
Really, life is all about connection. Whether it’s with someone you’ve known your whole life or a stranger singing your favorite song on the streets, you never know how you could make someone’s night or have yours made. Also, if you have any decency at all, PLEASE NEVER ask a musician to play freebird. EVER. Thanks