September 4, 2013

Portland street musicians make city their stage

We stop, look and listen, giving buskers our attention – and our cash.

By Karen Antonacci
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - With its shops, galleries and restaurants filling the brick sidewalks with cash-carrying pedestrians, downtown Portland is a popular playground for outgoing musicians in search of an audience -- and, if all goes well, a little cash.

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Myron Samuels plays his harmonica in Portland’s Monument Square during a farmers market on July 31.

Photos by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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The neck of Samuel James’s National guitar reflects in his glasses while he plays in Monument Square during the farmers market Aug. 14.

Additional Photos Below

And the musicians who perform in the Old Port are as diverse as the instruments and music they play, from a bluegrass trio to a man who plays an African hand drum to a guitar-playing purist who prefers that old-time rock 'n'roll.

Performing on street corners and sidewalks, or busking, is a time-honored tradition. And if some dollar bills end up in the guitar case or tip jar, that's just "icing on the cake," said Myron Samuels, who sets out a bag in Monument Square to collect tips because his tiny harmonica case wasn't exactly designed with busking in mind.

Some days are more lucrative than others. A busker can earn $20 or more after one set or play all day and walk away with $5 or $10. "It varies," said Exchange Street guitarist Rick Marr.

Downtowns such as Portland's offer clear advantages to the busking musician: an audience to provide immediate and unambiguous feedback about his tunes, plus some practice in overcoming stage fright before going on an actual stage. On a good day, maybe they'll earn what djembe player Said Anwar Cato-King called "a little bit of snack money."

But that's just one side of busking. The other side, the amazing side, is that it can make people stop and listen.

While people often walk right by them, the musicians also make real connections with their audience.

On their way wherever, people of all ages and in all states of dress pause and tap their feet to the music. Some dance, doing little grooves as they walk by, or slow down to enjoy the music for a minute as they pass. If they're feeling especially generous, they might stop and tell the musician to keep it up.

Here is an introduction to six of Portland's most familiar buskers. Some have regular spots and others just pop up whenever they sense people might need some music and, it is hoped, lighter wallets. What they have in common, though, is the decision to transform the sidewalks and streets into their own personal stages.

Karen Antonacci can be reached at 791-6377 or at:

Staff Photographer Gregory Rec contributed to this report


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Additional Photos

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Colin Malakie plays a khaen outside the Thomas Block building on Commercial Street in Portland on Aug. 23.

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Kyle Morgan, from left, Peter Winne and Jake Hoffman sing a capella near Monument Square on Aug. 14.

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Rick Marr plays a reggae song on his guitar he calls Nikki on Exchange Street in Portland on Aug. 16.

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Said Anwar Cato-King plays his djembe at Bell Buoy Park on Commercial Street on July 30.


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