Becoming a Street Performer, No. 2

Playing at the LaSalle Street Station

So, I just got back from my first performance in the subway. What an incredible experience! I thoroughly enjoyed it. Something about it made me feel very free – far from shore but swimming in calm, warm waters.

I decided to play this first time in the LaSalle Street CTA (Blue Line) station, which is about 5 blocks from where I work. I admit to being a little nervous as I walked over there during lunch today.

I promised myself I would stay for at least 20 minutes – about 4-5 songs. In the end, I played for an hour, made $8 in tips, had one person photograph me and got one business card from a listener.

The LaSalle Street station was the perfect venue for my first time. There is a good amount of traffic but not a ton of people like some of the central Loop stations – a good place for a newbie. It is close to my office and a comfortable station with a wide central area between its two tracks. The station is also amenable to performing in that the main entrance to the tracks is at one end of the station and leads passengers in one direction (not to both sides as do some stations).

LaSalle Street Station

The LaSalle Street Blue Line Station

My voice always sounds much better with a good amount of reverb. In that regard, the subway station was like a marvellous European cathedral wrapping its arms about me. I could hear myself very clearly and frequently also noticed echos as the sound reached the far end of the station and the ceilings above each of the tracks.

It’s amazing how the volume level within the station changes with the coming and going of the trains. When no train was nearby, I was loud and could hear my voice and guitar clearly echoing throughout the station – I just loved the sound. As a train pulled in, however, I couldn’t even hear my guitar no matter how loudly I played.

The people waiting for their trains were kind to me. A handful of people dropped a dollar or so in my bucket. Most people sat on the benches or waited on foot, turned in my direction, listening quietly. One woman gave her (3-4-year old) daughter a dollar to drop into my bucket. I thanked her and bowed as she dropped it in. Such a fun experience.

My Bucket

My Bucket

The only negative was that, even though it is supposed to reach a balmy 50-ish degrees here in Chicago today – very warm for the winter – it was still a bit chilly in the station, and my hands definitely became cold as I played. I’d probably look into getting some of those fingerless gloves for the next time out…though I’m not sure I’d like playing in them.

So, it was indeed a great experience. That said, could I do this all day? I’m not sure I could. I think about the many street musicians I’ve worked with in the past several years – George, Ron, Norm, Keithen, Maverick, Meisha, Joe, Scott, Vimont, Fritz, Talon… – how they often put in several hours in a row performing for countless passers-by. It’s a lot of work, and those talented musicians do it with a joy and pride in their jobs that many of us might find enviable. If I’m ever to earn a living through music, I’m not sure I could do it quite the way that they do.

At any rate, my day one was encouraging, interesting and full of joy. I can’t wait to do it again.

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