Here I am in the middle of downtown Portland. The city is alive and pulsating with creative energy and the streets are filled with happy people in a festive mood. I am one of those happy people walking in the fresh sunshine on a noticeably warm Saturday.
It is akin to a carnival atmosphere out here among the sounds of the many street musicians that have chosen this perfect day to brighten the streets with their colorful music.
I walk in time to the rhythm of the beat, jumping off one curb and onto the next. There is a man playing the buckets at the end of the block. He’s putting on a pretty good show and hamming it up for an another, obviously delighted man and his daughter. The man continues; snapping pic after pic of the Bucket Drummer as I pass by.
I head for what I call Portland’s Dysfunctional Living Room.
If you want to find some strange very Portland events and meet some very Portland people, with a liberal smattering of bewildered tourists, visit Pioneer Square. (It also has a thriving Starbucks by the way, if anyone is interested)
Today a band of teens backed up by giant refrigerators are setting up for what I imagine will be very cool display of teen angst pop accompanied by huge containers of milk. I wish I could stay but I must move on. I make a mental note to return to the Starbucks on the corner later but now I have important business.
I am on my way to The Portland Farmers Market to take in the good food and the fantastic atmosphere under the late summer trees at Portland State University.
It is a lively place with lots of beautiful food and a vast array of impromptu concerts in the park to keep one entertained.
These guys played some wicked bluegrass and I had to stop and snap some shots. They had CD’s for sale, I silently wished them luck and headed towards the glorious food.
l enjoy perusing fresh healthy food out in the open air with lots of friendly people around. Add trees and music to the scene and I am as content as can be. There is something about fruits and vegetables in the sun: the way they smell. The colors can be intoxicating as well and I cannot help but be in a good mood by this.
There is music everywhere! In addition to the market stage there are at least half a dozen acts playing sweet music under the trees in this lovely park on this lovely day in late September.
lt was all good and made a pleasant day even so much more so. I decided at that point that even good things must come to an end, besides it was getting close to closing time and I was looking to mainline some caffeine. I made my way back to the Starbucks, I ordered a tall one and sat outside near the front steps on a bench facing Nordstrom.
I like to people watch and this is an excellent location. I just sat there and took in the atmosphere…
…I did not notice at first. It was as if he just suddenly appeared. On an empty street corner in front of the Nordstrom and there he was: in a faded and rumpled raincoat, playing on a ragged double bass , strings askew, bow clutched tight. His hair; long, blonde and dirty hanging in matted clumps partially obscuring his face which seemed remarkably unlined. His eyes were closed in deep concentration; each note was deeply felt , I could see it on his face.
The music was beautiful. Funny, I don’t remember the tune. It was classical and I recall it being familiar but that’s all. I do remember the sound. It was clear and sharp and amazingly beautiful. I don’t know how he got such a delicate sound from such a shoddy instrument but he did.
A crowd had formed around him. Maybe 10 or 12 people, each person with the same awestruck look. On another day, each one of us would have passed him by, not giving a moment’s notice to the rumpled and forgotten man huddled behind the bus stop or in some shadowy forgotten doorway.Homeless, probably mentally ill and alone, he had this one gift. This wonderful gift of music. It was likely he didn’t have much else, but he had this one thing and there he was sharing it with whomever would listen.
He played for what seemed like several minutes then stopped abruptly. He never asked for spare change. He had no sign displayed or an empty musical case as many of the street performers had. He had nothing and he asked for nothing. We watched in silence as he stood up, picked up his instrument and his rickety stool and slowly made his way up the street never once looking back.
I never thought to take his picture. I had been snapping them all day but for some reason I didn’t think to snap his. I guess I thought it would disrupt the moment, that I might have angered him and sent him into a rage. I don’t know. I sound like a chicken but I bet I echo what others were thinking.
“Stay away from the crazy homeless person.”
No matter how beautiful his music may be. No matter that he awestruck a small crowd across the street from Portland’s Living Room. No matter how his melodies brought tears to my eyes. No matter. He was a crazy street person and I like everyone else will just try to stay out of his way and pretend that he’s no there. I feel bad for thinking this…
I finish my tall black coffee and head out the door. Another has taken the place of the raincoated man. Must be a prime spot.
The new guy seems much more approachable but has yet to draw a crowd. That does not stop him from playing his heart out. I am moved by his pluck, so much so that I gather up some of my own and strike up a conversation with him. Being a shy socially awkward wannabe writer this is amazing and I am rewarded with a story and a song.
Ryan has been playing on the streets of Portland for 2 weeks. He loves it here but is surprised and a bit daunted by the skill level and sheer numbers of his competition. He too has a CD for sale and a blog…this surprises me. I guess everyone has one these days. If you want to visit Ryan his blog is 16-dollars-a-day.bogspot.com.
“Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”