Subway artists offer intimate and surprising performances
These underground musicians provide entertainment for commuter culture.
As you walk down the New York City subway stairs, descending deeper and deeper into the underground, time slows down. Sure, clocks everywhere tell you exactly when your train will arrive, but morning feels like night. There's no work to be done or plans to arrange in a place with no Internet. The world has been rearranged and rebuilt into a stage of people with briefcases and Converses, iPads and art pads, all dancing the same frenzied dance. As you slip into the hypnotic rhythm, a sound rises above the fray. A subway musician has started to play ...
Subways are in Theo Eastwind's blood. When he set out to make his "King Of The Underground" in 2007, he decided to record it entirely on a subway platform. Eastwind told American Songwriter, "If you can get a New York City straphanger to purchase your CD in the 30 seconds it takes for their next train to arrive, you’re damn good."
And he is damn good: Eastwood won Fox News’ “Subway Idol” competition in 2004 and was a winner in MSG TV’s “NYC Soundtracks” in 2009. His voice is featured in a Miller Beer commercial announcing Miller's official launch in Vietnam. We hope he got some good pho out of the deal.
Natalia Paruz aka The Saw Lady
Even if you've never been to New York, there's a good chance you've heard Natalia Paruz's eerie, beautiful melodies: Paruz has appeared on FOX's "Good Day New York," ABC's "Good Morning America," NBC's "New York Live," MTV's "The Andy Milonakis Show" and VH1's "Behind the Music." Paruz moved to New York City from Israel at age 14 and has performed with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, the Westchester Philharmonic and the Manhattan Chamber Orchestra.
Paruz plays on an actual saw, an instrument that was popular in Vaudeville but had been all but forgotten until she picked it up. Her unique, ethereal music has gained the attention of many fans. She received citations of honor from the New York City Council and a medal of honor from Paris.
Mecca Bodega, a multi-musician percussion-driven band, brings together global drumbeats to make for a livelier commute. The band uses all kind of instruments, including the iple, Shakuhachi flute, mountain dulcimer and found objects. The band plays both below and above ground; it's performed at Woodstock '94, Celebrate Brooklyn Summer Festival, Merkin Concert Hall and Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall. You can even hear some of their music on the HBO show Subway Stories.
This Trinidad and Tobago-born steel drum player has been playing in NYC subways since 1987. He told the Associated Press that he's a welder by trade. "There will be millions of welders," said Richards, "but this (steel drums) is how I make a living." This veteran musician has developed a science to making a living underground. He studies sports team schedules, knows which tourist spots to hit up on holidays and puts in an least five hours of playing a day.
There's no better way to make a train racing underground feel like a spaceship whirling through the galaxy than by providing some good musical accompaniment. This violinist/singer/writer is known underground for her rendition of the "Stars Wars" theme song. New York lost her for a while as she traveled to perform in London a few weeks ago, and she was interviewed on Stoop-55.
When she's not saluting "Star Wars," she can rock a pretty great version of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and the Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony." Her perfect day involves meditating, going to the gym and playing on the street, but she wishes she could wake up in a different country and perform on a new stage every day.
Joshua Bell's fame reaches far beyond subways. He's a respected violinist and the current musical director for the Academy of St Martin in the Fields. This year, he toured South America, Europe, South Africa and New York, where he performed with the Johannesburg Philharmonic and Starlight Classics. He's won Grammy, Mercury, Gramophone and Echo Klassik awards. Basically, you wouldn't expect to see this guy playing in a subway. And yet ...
Colin Huggins aka The Crazy Piano Guy
We were passing through Washington Square Park a couple weeks ago when we noticed an odd sight: a man playing a baby grand piano in the middle of the park. Colin Huggins routinely pushes his 650-pound piano half a mile from Spring Street to Washington Square Park. Does that sound insane? It did to Huggins, who gave himself the name "The Crazy Piano Guy."
When Higgins first moved from Georgia to New York, he became the music director for the Joffrey Ballet School and played for the American Ballet Theater. "But once I started to feel like Gollum referring to my piano as 'my precious' I knew it was time to get out," Huggins says on his website. He started playing all around the city, in places like Union Square, Grand Central Station and the subway. Huggins signs his notes: "World's Happiest Man."
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