8/17: BuskNY’s back in town!

BuskNY’s back!

The last few days have been busy, both with busking and because I’ve taken on a commitment as the volunteer ESL instructor for a summer after-school program. That said, I’m still finding time to busk and to do community outreach. And we’re looking forward to having Kalan back in town soon as well, which will double our boots on the ground.

In any case, today brought big news. I spoke by phone with a violinist who received a wrongful summons (‘blocking traffic’ for a solo violinist playing in the evening, written expressly once she had asked for the officer’s badge number.) She was adjudicated guilty at her first hearing, but we’ve gotten her in touch with an attorney and are looking forward to a fairer outcome on appeal.

Then, I met another performer who’s received a summons, this time with a charge of ‘disorderly conduct,’ for playing guitar and singing on the platform. Her court date is just before mine, at the beginning of September, and we’re looking forward to seeing that thrown right out with a lawsuit to boot.

And finally, I met a jazz saxophonist — an excellent one — who’s been arrested no fewer than five times for acoustic, rule-abiding performances. Is that unjust? Well, apparently New York City judges think so: they’ve dropped the charges all five times. Can’t even say how much I look forward to seeing this go back to a court of law — this time with the real wrong-doers as the defendants.

Pretty exciting for one day’s developments. Justice, justice, we’ll get you one day!

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7/25: Busker Ball; ghosts of ’11

Milo and I just got back from Theo Eastwind’s 3rd Annual Busker Ball — and you should be sorry that you missed it! We stayed the full five hours with grins on our faces. If you want to hear one reason why, here’s a quick sample from Elijah Bridges, which I hope he won’t mind me posting. (A bit low-fi — but check that harmonica!)

For me, it was a bit of a tear-jerker too. These days I hear buskers in the subway every last day of my life, of course, but it’s different to have the evening to ourselves. For one thing, talent can do a lot more when it has hour-long sets to work with. (It also doesn’t hurt to have no trains coming through). I’m not saying that I forget how much artistry is in busking — but still, is it ever great to get a reminder of how high the high points can be. So thanks, Theo Eastwind, for making this happen!

One more thing. Just as we were taking off, we ran into Jesse Cohen, who played the third set. He asked if I had played the first set, since I was carrying my case. “No,” I said, “I was just out busking beforehand, that’s all. I play fiddle.” There was a pause — I could see the gears turning — and then, just about at the same moment, we realized that Jesse and I had shared a van the night we were both arrested in 2011.

I don’t want to retell that whole story here  — soon, perhaps — but Jesse was already in the van when me and my fiddle were thrown in head-first that night. I was scared half to death at the time, and Jesse was the first bit of sanity I found and clung to. We were put in different cells on arrival and never swapped contact information, so we’ve been looking for each other for the last two years. And now, here we are. It’s a great big community, busking in NYC, but it seems smaller all the time.

Kickstarter results; 3rd annual Busker Ball

The Kickstarter closed last night, and thanks to many wonderful friends, musicians, family members, and even unknown Kickstarter aficionados, we made it not just to 100 shirts, but to 135. We’ll be printing them this week and starting to distribute them just after that. Thanks so much, everyone!

On another note, we’d like to point out a concert date that’s not to be missed for those of you in NYC. Theo Eastwind, a long-term NYC busker and an outstanding musician, has organized the 3rd annual Busker Ball for this Wednesday at Spike Hill in Williamsburg. Theo will be performing himself, alongside a handful of the best new busking acts that he’s heard in the last few months. You can catch them all with a complementary ticket ($10 suggested donation). Doors open at 6:30 this Wednesday — and if you make it, find me there!

18/7: How to request the MTA rules booklet

Update: we eventually found a source of official MTA rules pamphlets. They’re available in Downtown Brooklyn at the Transit Adjudication Bureau. The address is 29 Gallatin Place, and the pamphlets are on the 3rd floor on the rack outside the elevator.

Lately we’ve been picking up an increased amount of traffic from Google. Don’t worry, we’re not talking about a flood of thousands yet! But there is definitely targeted traffic coming from buskers — and indeed, last night I got an email with a question specifically on busking legality.

So, like I mentioned yesterday, we’re planning to post more tips and resources for musicians, all the way from macro (class-action suit, you say?) to micro. Today’s subject is how to get your hands on a official booklet version of the MTA Rules of Conduct.

Many of you have seen me walking around, doing my folk-lawyer act, with my trusty blue-and-white booklet of the MTA Rules of Conduct. In fact, I often have it lying in my case while I perform:

IMG_0191

It’s pretty visible, and it may remind transit officers doing routine station-checks that my work is permitted. Who knows — maybe having it out even provides a measure of protection to other buskers? And on a more pragmatic note, I suspect it may even make me a teensy bit more money. We all know where our priorities are!

To request a booklet, go to the MTA online comment tool. You can choose from several categories of request, and I believe either “MTA-wide” or “MTA Police (non-emergency only)” would be a good bet. Then, just write that you’d like to have a copy sent to you, and include your mailing address. You’ll receive a booklet in about two weeks.

Want two copies, to create the much-desired akimbo justice effect? Just ask a friend to submit his or her own request! When it comes to law, the more, the merrier.

Busking log 11/07: flash mob contra at Grand Central

Today brought two new examples of the diversity and the high quality of the arts performed in the NYC transit system. (I suppose I’m preaching to the choir here — but it never hurts to remind ourselves of how broad this community is!)

  1. I had the chance to perform for a contra dance in Grand Central Station’s Vanderbilt Hall. Can’t beat the location! It was organized by local dancer as a “flash mob” event. The band and dancers were sauntering about incognito, then quickly lined up for a dance, and were gone again as soon as it ended. (Video will come soon). Passers-by greatly enjoyed the show, and although police did arrive to stop the dance, they were persuaded to hold off for a few minutes until it ended. Thanks, officers, for letting the music continue.
  2. In the 14th St tunnel from 7th to 6th Ave, Milo and I happened upon a truly, truly outstanding cellist. Of course, more than a few people perform the cello suites underground, some for practice, and some for art. But not all of them are, like this guy, Eastman School of Music graduates, and very few of them can light up a tunnel like this. Thanks, Wayne. Keep it up, and we’ll see you around!

Busking log 7/07: White dudes who fiddle

Sunday is typically a slow day in the subway, but today I nonetheless ventured into my shark-infested concert hall, where a few audience members were already bobbing around my cove:

he never bites, except for the smallest children

81st St is a great station on weekends, since it sees a steady stream of museum visitors headed back downtown in the afternoons. Plus, the B train only runs weekdays — meaning Saturday and Sunday offer extra-long lulls between the screeches of the MTA’s apparently never-maintained brakes.

I had hardly been there ten minutes before a guy came up, holding a violin case, and said he played fiddle. “Which kinds,” I asked. “All kinds!” Having thusly established our shared repertoire, he popped open his case, and we shared a pretty solid set of tunes. It turns out that my new pal, whose name is Douglas, acts, performs, and sings in New York, and has some experience working in the subway as well. You can check out his site here!

Although Douglas had to hurry off to a gig, I kept having a great time at 81st, playing some good tunes and explaining the absence of the B train to visitors from several of Europe’s finest countries.

After two hours, I was feeling pretty played-out and took off for home. By the 14th St transfer to the L, my mind was already more on finding sustenance than on music. But lo and behold: as I stepped of our train, I saw a violinist killing Bach’s fugue in G minor across the platform.

Having previously thought myself the owner of the subway G minor fugue market, I hurried over to check it out. Turns out it was none other than Filip Pogády, violinist extraodinaire, who I had met last summer after he watched me perform at 81st St.

He’s been very active with a burgeoning solo career, but is still finding time to perform underground as well. MTA riders have lots to complain about, but read this guy’s bio — low-quality violin concerts is one problem they don’t have!

Just a good reminder that, while Joshua Bell may only have played that one time, there’s a broad base of serious talent in the subway. So keep your ears peeled!

Busking log 7/04: Acrobats, t-shirts, and a charcoal mustache

On the train ride in to Manhattan this morning, I met two members of the Hybrid Movement Company, an acrobatics/circus/dance group that performs regularly in city parks. (Judging by their Facebook page, they’ve been on NBC as well!)

We shared some arrest stories, a mix of good, bad, and very amusing. There are more than a few of us out here getting arrested for art — but fortunately, I’m not the only one with a way to fight back, either. Keep it coming, acrobats!

After I caught up with the Hybriders above-ground to see their (fantastic) performance in Washington Square Park, I joined Milo in his studio to work on designs for our upcoming advocacy t-shirt. (Details coming soon on the plan for the shirts — and, not to spoil any surprises, New Yorkers should be seeing them in person soon!)

Designing was fun. Milo let me hold his charcoal pencil briefly, and I used it to draw a mustache on my face:

arr!

(My shirt was on the floor, serving as a design template). Fortunately, at least one of us took the job more seriously:

coming soon!

We’ll be receiving a sample batch of shirts tomorrow, and hope to have completed the first screenprints by Saturday night. In the meantime, let us know if you think we missed any important busking instruments in our design. There’s still time for additions!