Last week I wrote about Howlin’ Hobbit and how he uses his unique talents to connect with his audience. This week, HH joins us for a quick interview about his experiences as a veteran busker.
What do you think “typical” performing musicians can learn from buskers?
How to take the pressure. How to think “audience first.” Humility.
What do you feel are some of the benefits of busking as compared to venues like coffeeshops and bars?
Busking is a great place to polish your chops. There are times when it’s like paid practice. Okay, poorly paid practice, but paid practice nonetheless.
And really, since I don’t know of many coffeehouses that pay, you’re just busking there too, except you have to have more material ready and all but beg them for the “opportunity” to play there.
How do you measure success? Is it solely by the amount in the tip jar?
That’s it to a great extent but you can’t discount attracting a wild crowd nor dancing babies. By that last I don’t mean “dancing babes” — though when you’re an old dawg like me, that ain’t bad! — I mean little kids who’re dancing to your tunes, even when the adults remain oblivious. I love dancing babies! You can’t fool babies. If they’re dancin’, you’re rockin’.
What’s the one thing you wish people knew about your profession?
We are not panhandlers. Panhandlers say “give me money”. We say “here’s some entertainment, if you like it, leave a tip, if not, smile.”
Any war stories?
After 20-plus years I have so many stories if I tried to tell even most of them to you your brain would shut down out of self defense. So I’ll give you two quick ones.
One night, some years ago, I was playing in a little alcove formed by the doorway of what was then a jewelry store at the corner of 45th and University in the U District here in Seattle. Nothing but gutbucket blues, understand. This wino sits himself on a parked car and listens for a while. I can’t for the life of me remember which tune did him in, but all of a sudden I look up and he’s crying, tears just streaming down his face. I’d touched him somewhere with the tune. He had one of the lids to a styrofoam hamburger package he’d been panhandling with and he came over and dumped all his pennies and nickels into my case, slurred out “thank you” and staggered off down the street.
Another time, same alcove but daytime. I’m jamming with a wonderful classically trained violinist named Dave. Still them old blues. Some little Ave Rat reached into the case and grabbed a handful of our money. Before the kid could straighten back up — and without missing a beat — Dave lashed out with his bow and landed a right stinger on the kid’s shoulder. He dropped the money and dashed off like he’d been shot at. Major applause for that from the assembled crowd.