Busking in Brooklyn

Snowing in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

I’ve seen a lot of buskers in New York.

I’ve even seen the same buskers multiple times over the years: the three guys who backflipped off poles and somersaulted between seats on the N/Q line between Manhattan and Brooklyn to maximize their performance time. I recall especially vividly the youngest, whose tangled ‘fro picked up subway grime while doing those somersaults (shudder).

The bug-eyed, pink bell-bottomed Cucaracha Lady, so named because she played “La Cucaracha” on her plastic recorder on the 7 line while crossing from Manhattan to Queens. The Sunday morning feel-good barbershop quartets singing “Mary Don’t You Weep,” the first singer holding a cane, the last a brown paper bag for tips. The mariachi bands always came out on the weekends too, but they were so darn loud they pissed me off. Also the drummers who brought stools and djembes onto the subway car and hashed it out with no apologies to your eardrums. The list goes on.

Some are good; some not so. But never once have I actually given money to a performer. Until this past Monday.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from observing all these buskers, it’s that you’ve got to play a crowd-pleaser. Once, when a feel-good quartet sang Ben King’s “Stand By Me,” I saw every middle-aged man start reaching for his wallet. Total suckers for nostalgia.

Well, I guess that makes me a total sucker for a good folksy tune and a husky voice. Jesse Cohen was playing Bob Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country” when I reached the platform, then continued with Rufus Wainwright’s “Hallelujah” while I waited for the L. Both such good songs, and he played them so well. So I gave him a dollar and sincere compliments in exchange for the above photo.

Which leads me to a confession: I’ve always wanted to try busking in a NYC subway for an hour and see how much I could make. I haven’t done it yet, but maybe you’ll see me on these city streets someday…


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