Charlottesville’s Street Musicians

James, a street musician playing Friday nights on the Downtown Mall Charlottesville

James, a street musician playing Friday nights on the Downtown Mall Charlottesville

This evening I went out to gather still shots and audio of downtown Charlottesville, Virginia, one of the case studies in my dissertation on local music scenes. I’ve been lucky enough to collaborate with two artists in town on documenting the scene through multiple senses: Tom Daly and Wendy Hsu

Tonight was a good night to be there – it was First Friday’s, where all the galleries, restaurants that have turned into galleries, and stores that have turned into galleries open their doors to a new exhibit and free wine and cheese. It was also Friday’s After Five, which is a concert series of local and family friendly music sponsored by a partnership between the city and local developer/music entrepreneur Coran Capshaw.

This, combined with good weather for eating sushi and drinking beer, meant that the downtown mall (a bricked in pedestrian walk in the center of town) was packed with revelers.

This also meant it was a prime night for street musicians to be heard and make some dough. I met James [pictured above], a percussionist who was playing a 5 gallon plastic bucket with a pair of worn in drum sticks. He transformed the bucket into a versatile drum, which he made boom and crack over the conversational din of the mall. He told me usually some of his friends come out to play with him but they were moving today and would be there next week. As I tucked a bill inside the Success Magazine he was using to hold his earnings, I asked him if I could take his picture and promised to send it to him via email. He was happy to oblige, telling me that people promise, but rarely follow through and he didn’t yet have a picture of himself performing.

Local musicians are often more excited about the recognition than the money because sometimes the former is in shorter supply. Its even been documented scientifically.

James got me thinking more about what Charlottesville’s music scene must be like for street musicians. Everyone here thinks of these musicians as an indicator of a strong music scene. James’ only performances are out here, with this drum or sometimes with a hand drum. He knows that Fridays are the most worthwhile times to perform. He works the consumer culture of the mall as much as musicians who play in its bars and clubs after national acts play at the Charlottesville Pavilion.

Play on James.