The Economic Adventures of a Transborder Street Musician

Heading down south for the big Pesos.

Staging a Phillybusker. July 9, 2008

(Photo by Gustavo Martinez)


The streets in south Phillywere steaming with that glowing lick of a lingering mist that could condensate from one second to the other into a thick sudden pour. The brick seemed more like brick and therefore Philly looked more like Phillyeven though I’ve never been in it before. It was 11 in the morning and by the time we were ready to go out the condensation broke into the predictable rain of the day. With the guitar on my back and the day in front of us there was nothing else to do but to walk about until we found a nice morning pub where we could wait for the rain to calm down.

This was the story for about three more bars until we finally ended up in Old City at a nice neighborhood park. The day was humid and the sun was almost out from behind the clouds. This park was a nice gathering place for people reading the NY Times and the most recent Dalai Lama novel/essay. Musicians gathered there tuning their instruments with one another. There was a duo of accordion and guitar in the center, an acoustic guitarist sitting on a bench to the north, another just sort of jamming to himself. It certainly wasn’t the place I would have chosen to busk. It had a nice vibe and all but it was too harmonious for me to interrupt with my loud and angry folk songs and to make any money when musicians where just jamming for free around me. Gustavo thought otherwise and later confessed his choice to be a sort of experiment: throw me in the midst of an ultra comfortable setting and see if it worked. It didn’t. I had lots of fun just feeling Philly surrounding me and knowing, being aware of my being within such a nice context, another city, another adventure, but hey…again in my adventurously stupid way I had driven to Philadelphia with just enough cash for one way tolling. So I needed cash to get back out of the city and I only got 3 bucks. I don’t know if it was the fact that my seeding money was just a few coins or if the fact that I chose to ironically put my credit card along those coins in the guitar case made it a little difficult for the random transient to believe that I really needed their support.

Whatever it was I just did a quick set and decided to walk little bit more to find something more street-like. So Gustavo thought of the perfect place: South Street on south Philly. We headed there but we stopped for a few more pints of beer so that I could be in my element, the element of blatant uninhibited self-confidence. When we arrived at South St. it looked like the perfect place, full of traffic, tourists, bars, coffee shops and noise. We walked for a while looking for a nice spot to set up my case and myself and as we were walking a guy from inside a bar, through an opened window, called me.

– Hey, is that an acoustic guitar you have there?

– Yeah, as a matter of fact it is.

– Wow, come and play us a song, I’ll pay you for a song.

– Sure, no problem, how ’bout $5 dollars… (My blatantly uninhibited self-confidence shouted before I could step in).

– Sure, I’ll give you five bucks, but for that price I wanna hear “Free Bird”.

– Sorry no “Free Bird”, I suck at covers, but I do have some southwestern fried folk from Texas…that should make up for it…

– Ok sure just sing us something.

So I put my case in the floor, opened it, grabbed my guitar and strapped it and quickly began to sing one of my new songs. The vibe was great, they were drunk enough to throw in another five bucks just for the sake of it and people around them began throwing in 1’s. Not too many but a good 3 or 4 in the space of two songs. We were about a block and a half away from the Obama South Philly headquarters and so every time an Obama girl would pass by my patrons would shout for the candidate in a futile effort to get one of them to have a beer with them. It was beautiful. Coming to think of it I guess I should have stayed longer, at least a couple of songs longer but I was so excited that I decided to go look for a busking pitch right away. We did find one but I was only able to play a couple of songs before the cops told me to stop…It was a good day to celebrate my 20th busk.

Day 20


Amount of money made: $17.56


P.S. Thanks Gus!