Photograph by: Frank Eugene
Over the last two days I noticed myself having a dramatically different attitude in comparison to the weekend. As I experienced it, the crowd in New Orleans this last weekend was a spotty one. The groups I encountered while doing shows seemed to alternate between enthusiastic fun-loving folk and distrustful skeptics. It’s been Spring Break for schools, so there are a lot of drunk college kids visiting, mixed in with families. Overall, the weekend was fairly hard work. Most of the time, this job is play. Sometimes though, it’s work.
Obstacles aside, I did fairly well, and I felt like I’d earned a day off. I spent most of Monday tinkering with my music setup. I’m looking to diversify my street entertainment, and the next focus is music. As much as I love performing magic and all the interactive, personal connections that come with it, there are some days when I’d like to work but I may not feel like interacting a whole lot — or, more likely, when the crowds aren’t responsive to it. This is where having a trickle-by act would be nice.
Doing a magic show requires a lot of participation from those watching it. They must come up close and help create the illusion of an audience, pay attention to what’s happening, and follow directions (like put money in the hat). With performing music, it’s a much more independent process for the artist. You do your thang, and if people like it, they will come up and pay you. Other than patter between songs, you pretty much do your own gig regardless of who’s around. Basically, it’s your thang, do whatcha wanna do (baby).
A music act would’ve been good for the afternoon/evening crowds this weekend. The quality of shows seemed to deteriorate at a steady slope as the afternoon booze buzz settled in to the throngs of people milling about Bourbon and the rest of the French Quarter.
So after jamming most of Monday morning, I decided to experiment with the amplified set out in the streets. The music rig I was going to use consisted of a small ATV battery, a power inverter, 15w Marshall amp, harmonicas, microphone and stand, baritone ukulele, laptop and audio interface (amp has only 1 input, so I gotta use my computer and interface to use both the mic & the uke), and cables. With the Pelican case side panniers, this load wasn’t very difficult on the bike, though my topcase wasn’t quite big enough to fit the amp (nothing some bungee cables couldn’t fix).
It was slow on Monday, slow enough to where one of the Big Pitches was vacant. The spot in front of Rouses on Royal is one of the best pitches for music acts, and when I made a pass through it was open. So I zipped back to the house and loaded the bike, but by the time I returned there was a saxophonist set up there. I wheeled the bike to the pitch across the street where I regularly do magic shows. I’ve been wanting to use the bike as part of my street set for a while, but once or twice I’ve sort’ve half-heartedly attempted it, and had meter maids tell me to move. This time I set it square in the middle of the street, and clearly claimed it as a prop for the Magician on a Motorcycle show.
While I waited for the saxophonist to finish, I loaded my pockets and stood atop my helmet for a minute or two. The flow was steady but quite slow, though Spring Break was in effect and there was a higher than normal ratio of young kids about. Since I wasn’t out to do magic shows, I was under no pressure to get a show off. I stood on the helmet until I noticed a young man leaning on the barrier blocking Royal Street, watching me balance on one leg atop a motorcycle helmet while holding a paintbrush. I nodded to him and asked how he was doing. “I’m doing good, just trying to figure out what you’re doing”. I tell him “I am going to do my best to nonchalantly draw a crowd, in the most casual way possible.” A few people walking towards us slowed and eventually stopped to listen while I told him how I was considering doing a magic show to kill some time before moving across the street to experiment with a new musical act. I continued to converse with the few people stopped, until I had the attention of 4 or 5 people. I then went about setting up the rope, but at half-speed, since I was already engaged with enough people to get a show started.
I then did one of my slowest shows yet. It needed to last longer in order to build it up to a decent crowd. It was so much more of an enjoyable experience really taking my time with those people. The streets were quieter, there were a ton of families out, and though flow was sparse, the crowds were much more attentive. I did three shows like this, and it didn’t feel like work at all. During the weekend, I had to fight for their attention. But since it was slow out yesterday, most of the people that stopped stayed because there wasn’t much else happening to distract them.
Once the saxophonist left, I wheeled the bike back only to realize I’d left the laptop at home. Yesterday, instead of bringing the uke out for the first time, I ended up with the first experience of using my motorcycle as a backdrop, and a with a quality reminder to take my time out there, slow down and enjoy the moment. If you relax, they relax. Today I did three shows with the same demeanor, leaning back on my bike and taking my time with the audience, accepting those that leave while connecting with those that stay. I must admit, I’m much more comfortable with my machine near. I’ve learned a lot about myself with that bike, and it serves as a quiet reminder of my confidence. It also gives the spectators a visual image to attach to my traveling performer story.
I’ve been compiling lists of maintenance and gear upgrades, preparing to get the show back on the road. I’m looking to scout some of Florida before turning back around and heading North and West.
Here’s a shot of my first attempt at cutting a rose. All the hair styling you see me with is done by me, via the ol’ extra mirror & a beard trimmer technique. I’ll eventually whip up a page dedicated just to that, but for now here’s my latest experiment. Turned out a bit more like a spider web than a rose, but I know what needs changing, and I got a feeling the second one will turn out pretty decent.
Photograph by: Frank Eugene