Out of the Woodshed; Busking in Chicago

  1. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    I made a quick trip to Chicago last week on business, but found a little time to play while I was there. The company that hired me put me up in the Hilton, with a nice view of Lake Michigan, but the most thrilling part of it was that I was right across the street from Buddy Guy's Legends blues club. On my first night, I went and heard a top-notch blues group (guitar/vocalist, drummer, keyboard and bass), and was thoroughly enjoying the performance, but it was interrupted in the middle of the first set - Buddy came in, and took the stage unannounced for two numbers! It was fantastic.

    My room was in the building you see behind this giant angel of music, top floor, middle tower:

    And directly behind the hotel, across the street back there, was this:

    So, later that night:

    Well, the only thing that could have made my first trip to Chicago better would have been to go busking with only my mandolin ... ok, well now, been there, done that!

    Story below.
  2. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    Well, this was my first trip to Chicago, and the first time I'd been to the great lakes region. I was really impressed with the beauty of the affluent areas where I stayed and where I worked. The job I did was on the south end of Lakeshore Drive. On Saturday, I finished the job and had a few hours to spare before heading to the airport, and I had made up my mind to go busking Lakeside with my mandolin - another first. I've never gone out anywhere to play or perform in public without a guitar.

    Here is a view of the lake from the sidewalk in front of the building where I was working:

    I had my luggage and mandolin with me on that last day, so I drug it through a tunnel over to the lake, and found a bench in the shade. There in front of me was a four-lane track where people were jogging and biking on by. Beyond the track was a concrete "beach" for swimmers and sunbathers. I played two sets and had plenty of time to relax and enjoy the scenery before I had to leave for the airport.

    So, how did it go? Well, no one put any money in my case

    But, that really wasn't expected, as people were moving fast and wearing workout gear, and I'm no Sam Bush or anything. Actually, it went much better than I could have expected!

    In my first set, I put my open case out front. It took me a little time to warm up, but I started with some practice stuff, then played a few tunes I'd only recently learned. I played until I'd had enough playing and was ready for a break. Aside from a few smiles offered by passers-by, I didn't generate much interest, but I enjoyed the playing and the practice, and I enjoyed my relaxation afterward. I moved my case to the bench beside me, open, with my mandolin catching an eye here and there, and whispering ever so softly to me until it finally called me to play again. A couple folk sat on the long bench near me that time, and surprisingly, they stayed through my second set.

    I played a lot of stuff. Bonaparte's March, Black Mountain Rag, etc. An elderly lady stopped in the shade to listen, and I went into Hollow Poplar. When that was done, she complimented me and seemed to genuinely enjoy the music. Then I played and sang Mr. Bojangles, followed by the instrumental, Poor Richard's Blues. As soon as I hit the last note on that one, the most beautiful child I've seen (outside my own progeny, of course) approached me all lit up with smiles and happiness. "Do you mind if I video while you play?" "Oh, not at all, baby, go right ahead." And when she was ready, I lit into the Nancy Blake instrumental, Hangin' Dog.

    Now, this girl was an absolute angel. Twenty-something, probably in college, but one of those rare beauties adorned in a white sun dress. She said she'd been learning guitar a couple years, and had been thinking of playing banjo, but that she was really stricken by the sound of the mandolin and the beautiful, tinkly music that was coming from it. She had begun her filming head-on, but moved in to get close-ups of my hands as I played. Afterward, we talked a bit and I did all I could to plant the seeds of making a mandolin convert of this angelic creature. It was fabulous. Finally, she took her leave, joining a girlfriend who had also stood and listened from a little distance, and I went back to playing, with renewed confidence and maybe even wishing I were as young as I felt in that moment.

    And so, despite the lack of coin in the case, I got a lot of satisfaction from my first little mandolin outing.
  3. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    Wonderful story, Mark! Is there somewhere you could do something similar closer to home? I started to suggest White Rock Lake, but then remembered you're not from around here. Lol
  4. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    Hi Sherry! You could do White Rock Lake!

    Here in Abilene, there is a monthly Art Walk event each month in Spring and Summer, and busking on the street is cool. There is a new place here that has a large flea market every month; I have considered asking them if I can play there. We also have two coffee shops in town that host open mic every week, one on Tuesday and one Thursday; I've played those but not with mandolin.
  5. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    My teacher is from Abilene and visits periodically. Maybe by next spring my playing will have improved so that I can come with her and check out these opportunities. Would love to duo(?) with you.
  6. HonketyHank
    Great story, Mark. Thanks for posting it. I got a great case of the grins from it.
  7. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter

    Sherry, now that would be a blast! You've said it, and in writing, now we have to do it!
  8. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    Sherry, I forgot to mention, there is also a weekly Bluegrass jam in Abilene that is well attended, held in a nursing home here, I believe it's been running for 15 years or more. It draws musicians of every caliber, from pros to rank amateur.
  9. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    I never knew going to Abilene could be so much fun!
  10. HonketyHank

    I spent a few hours in Abilene KS once. I am confident that I was enriched by the experience.
  11. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    Hank, most likely Abilene, KS was enriched as well!
  12. greenwdse
    I love this Mark. Write more!
  13. belorsch
    Inspiring story Mark. Thanks for posting it.
  14. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    Thanks for the positive comments, guys!
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