My return to subway gigs after a long summer break couldn't have been better. I performed in the Graybar corridor at Grand Central Station (it feeds into the main hall) and has a great people watching vantage point. With amazing warm acoustics naturally created by great architecture, I sang with ease and enjoyed what only time off can provide, the ability to hear myself with fresh ears and ideas.
I noticed many people taking an "audio" tour of the station. There's a funny juxtaposition of tourists casually looking up at whatever is being pointed out from a voice in their headphones and the racing commuters who always seem to cut their next train close to within seconds. It's truly a dance, albeit clumsy at best.
I was excited to have a visit from Tim Higginbotham of Music Under New York welcoming me back from my break. Tim's official title is Schedule Coordinator, but to me having worked with Tim since I began performing in the MUNY program in 1999, he is so much more. An amazing spirit who understands the importance of nurturing and supporting public music performances in an urban environment, Tim is the quintessential New Yorker who's been in the heart of the NYC music under NY scene in all it's evolution since the beginning.
I met a woman named Valerie Williams who talked to me about taking time for herself. She allowed me to film her for one of my "What's Your Inspiration" clips. Here's Valerie's clip.
Interesting about this woman's story was how through a tragedy she has found a new reason to live. "Just as noise gives meaning to silence and sadness gives meaning to happiness, so death gives meaning to life." I discovered this comment from a blog by Jane Fonda when she was performing in 33 Variations.
Somehow a performer in public spaces draws people to want to connect and I enjoy listening and asking about their experience and what inspires them. Maybe it's the familiarity of a location with the unfamiliarity of the individual that brings out such honesty and gems of inspiration.
It's a communication within the metaphorical underground, being part of the fabric, listening to the pulse. I find more people are telling me they are changing, they are doing more for themselves. Is this a trend? I hope so.
Close to 3 pm as my performing time was almost over, a young cool looking dude walked by with a guitar case, a groovy hat and a good vibe. I asked if he wanted to jam and he opened his case took out a sweet Ibanez guitar and began riffing on one of my songs. He introduced himself as Vo Era. Emphasis on the V and the O while signing with his fingers. On his way to catch a train, we only had a chance to jam and chat for a brief moment, but I did film him a bit. I checked out his website and loved this comment: "Do I choose to do this or do I have to do this, but this you go the extra mile because it's so more rewarding." Check out the clip I made of us at Grand Central and what inspires Vo.
Later that day I got a lovely email from a guy who was in the station and bought my CDs:
I stopped to speak with you at GCT around 1pm today and bought two of your cds. I was getting my shoes shined, reading the paper and said to myself "who is playing that beautiful music?" I listened to "Coming Back to Me" tonight and really like it. I said to myself that there is a lot going in this voice...I heard Natalie Merchant, Lara Nyro, Joni Mitchell...you've got quite a range and your guitar work is impeccable. I didn't know that you opened for Laura Nyro, so that was a good guess. Anyway, my first and true love is folk music and I enjoyed stumbling upon your music today. Thanks and all the best! Ron
If Grand Central was the sweet spot of natural acoustics and laid back performing, Columbus Circle today was the polar opposite. Performing between the up and downtown express 2/3 trains made for a more rock club environment. I honestly can never vocally compete with passing express trains, so I musically mark my time on the guitar until the roar diminishes. I love the #1 uptown platform. I perform in front of an opening to the lower stairs to the D/B A/C trains. Through this vantage point, you can see the wonderful and colorful Sol Lewitt mosaic "Whirls and Twirls" installed by Arts For Transit. It's a nice backdrop for my "stage." An interesting statistic, someone recently told me that Columbus Circle has the most turnstile use in NYC.
The crowds build and connect in a way other performance locations can't because in those places, people are passing me on their way to places. Here I have the audience until the train arrives. I enjoy seeing the people inside the cars as the doors open and love it when they key into my music looking out in my direction with a smile, sometimes a wave or nod.
Today I tried to connect within myself how to explain why I love to perform in public spaces. I say it's not precious, meaning I can start and stop at will. I can talk to people. I'm part of the soundtrack, not the primary event you would hope to expect in a club or at a concert. I sometimes marvel at how I can deal with the chaos. But when I sing, I'm in my own peaceful place. There is a calm in the comings and goings of so many people. I love to sing for people. I'm a transmitter of sorts.
I've lived in NYC for a long time and it's fun to have a friend or someone I know walk by and say Hi. Today Dr. Barry Kohn walked by. He's a really wonderful physician who founded Physician Volunteers for the Arts and also not a small mention, Charles Busch based his play The Tale of the Allergist's Wife on Dr. Barry and his wife, Brina. We had a brief chat and he shared what inspires him. Seems like he too is taking time to be in the moment.
So I'll keep singing and performing and hoping if you are reading this you enjoy my comments. Feel free to leave one below, I'd love to hear what you think.