“Hey man, is it cool if my friend sets his drums next to you and plays with you for a couple of hours? We could split the tips.” My immediate thought is, “No,” but then I look over at Rob’s car, which is packed to the brim with drums, and parked in the red zone and realize that he means business. I say yes instead. As his friend Aaron sets up his gigantic drum set, I play a couple more songs and ponder what’s about to happen.
I’ve gotten used to going with the flow out on the streets of San Francisco and more often than not I’m delighted by the outcome. A couple of weeks ago a man from Mexico City said that his dream was to do what I did. This seemed a bit dramatic but I sensed that it was genuine so I handed over my guitar and let him play a song. He sang a beautiful ballad in Spanish and a small crowd gathered. When he was done, he was brimming with excitement and satisfaction and he thanked me thoroughly. Another time this teenage boy arrogantly told me that if I let him sing a song the tips would come flying in. Although he was cocky, he seemed confident and not crazy, so I let him take the mic. His claims about the tips fell flat, but he did sing well. So today, I’m feeling optimistic about this collaboration with Aaron.
Once he’s set up he gives me a look indicating he’s ready to play and we get going on “Just Friends” by Musiq Soulchild. He seamlessly locks in with my rhythm and we jam out covers and a couple of my original songs. This goes on for the next half hour, at the end of which a crowd of about 15 people has formed. Aaron’s homie Rob sees an opportunity to use the momentum of this small crowd to create more engagement, asking if he can hop on the mic and freestyle.
I continue to play my guitar along with them and about 15 more people gather. They really start getting into it, dancing and taking videos for their Instagram stories. Rob leads the show with energy and charisma to spare, cleverly calling the improvised group “Curb Service” and being candid about the fact that he and Aaron just met me on the street. After about 10 minutes he wraps it up with a request for donations and a plug for all of our social media accounts. We receive stream of dollars and a couple requests for photographs. Then we take a break, letting the crowd disperse. We chill out for about 5 minutes, then Aaron and I begin playing again, restarting the cycle. We do 3 cycles in 2 hours then split the tips. My take is definitely more than I would have normally made playing by myself. It is a success to say the least!
It is instances like this one, where something completely unexpected and special happens, that make busking a really unique and rewarding experience. Though it is a lot of effort to load up my car, drive it down the hill, park, unload, wheel all my equipment to Bart, set up, play for a while, get asked by the police to leave because of noise complaints, find a new spot, set up again, play for a while, pack up, wheel my stuff back to Bart, reload my car, drive home, and finally unload my equipment into my garage, it hasn’t felt like work.
Aaron and Rob are playing music at Jack London Square at an event called Second Saturday this Saturday. Most other Saturdays you can catch them rocking out at Lake Merritt.