Busking in NYC

What Happens When Musical Saw Player, Busker, and Street Performer Natalia ‘Saw Lady’ Paruz Plays in the Subway

I started busking as a musical saw player in 1993.
Prior to that I spent a few months busking as a tap-dancer and street performer on the streets of New York City, but though I enjoyed it, I didn’t last very long as a street performer tap dancing, because I was a trainee with the Martha Graham Dance Company at the time, and the physicality of busking as a dancer on top of taking dance classes and participating in dance rehearsals was just too tiring.
I had a 1.5 feet by 3 feet board (that he Martha Graham Company’s custodian gave me – it was part of the old set of ‘Primitive Mysteries’, which was replaced) which I took to various streets to tap-dance on.
A favorite memory of mine from those days is the day I busked by a Broadway theater: the actors inside the theater threw coins from their dressing room’s window down to me. A guy passing by motioned at the falling coins and said to me: “Pennies from Heaven” (which is also a name of a song and a movie).

Saw Lady

A year or two later I discovered the musical saw. I first started busking as a musician on the streets around the theater district in New York City, but when winter came I decided to venture down into the subway. Once I did that – I was totally hooked on the phenomenal acoustics in the subway, and I never wanted to go back to playing above ground.

Astor Place subway station

Many people erroneously think that buskers are homeless, or that buskers perform in the subway because they are not good enough to get gigs anywhere else. I know many, many of the buskers in New York City and none of them is homeless (one actually was homeless, but he isn’t any more).
And all buskers also have “regular” gigs on the so called “legitimate” stage. I’ve played at Carnegie Hall, Madison Square Garden and Lincoln Center, and I keep doing such gigs. But at the same time, I also play in the subway. Not because I have to, but because I want to. Actually – I’m addicted to playing in the subway :)
I love busking in the subway because of the people. The music becomes an excuse for communication.
They say that if you stand in one place in New York City long enough, eventually every New Yorker would pass by you.
In my blog I try to present a slice of New York City life from a different angle. Everything in this blog really happened, and the people are real.

Saw Lady with cops

I hope you enjoy my blog.
If you happen to see me busking in the subway – come and say ‘hi’!


10 Responses to Busking in NYC

  1. Lisa on October 28, 2010 at 1:57 am

    I am trying to locate Calebe Arruda who plays the violin and guitar usually at Union Square and Grand Central. He played at my best friends wedding reception in Ct 20 years ago. She recently passed away and her husband is tryiny to locate Calebe to see if he would play at her ‘Celebration of Life Ceremony’. If you or someone you know could help me find him her husband would be so grateful. If you cannot please pass this to those who might know how I can reach him. My email is LDF@Fimbers.com
    Thank you

  2. Lisa on October 28, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    Hi Natalia,
    Thank you for getting back to me so fast. My friend located Calebe and he is going to play at my friends Celebration of Life. Thank you so much for getting back to me and helping In our search. I travel often to the city and hope I will have the pleasure of hearing you perfrom!
    Thanks again!

  3. GV8 on December 27, 2010 at 5:56 pm

    I am hooked on your blog. Your success playing for film audiences, the philharmonic and Carnegie Hall is well known. What I didn’t know is that you’re still a busker. I also didn’t know the high opinion professional musicians have of the subway acoustics.

    Bringing live music to those who could not otherwise afford it is not only awesome but makes a better world. That’s one of the great things about New York–the talent that is everywhere from a group of singers that gather on a street corner in Soho or a church on the upper east side to the musicians down under generously sharing their gift with everyone. Thank You.

  4. vito on January 19, 2011 at 9:05 am

    hi everyone! i’m an italian guitar player and i would like to know if i need some busking license to play in the new york tube, i mean something like london..
    thank you

    • The Saw Lady on January 21, 2011 at 9:15 pm

      Hi Vito,

      There are auditions for permits to play in the NYC subway, similar to in London. But that’s where the similarity ends, thank G-d! In NYC one can also busk without a permit (thanks to ‘Freedom of Expression’), as long as you follow the same rules as for permitted musicians and as long as you don’t set up at one of the 28 permitted locations when a musician has a permit there.
      If you come to NYC and you see me in the subway – come and say ‘hi’!

  5. Sue Andrews on July 5, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    Can anyone provide citations to laws or rules that address busking in NYC subways? I saw the reference from The Saw Lady about ‘Freedom of Expression.” My son was recently arrested for busking in a NYC subway and I am trying to inform myself.

    • The Saw Lady on July 5, 2011 at 4:44 pm

      Hi Sue,

      Who is your son? Maybe I know him…
      The question is: what was he arrested for (too loud, blocking the way, selling CDs?)
      Did he argue with the police/refuse to move?

      Most likely, he will get in front of a judge by the following day who will immediately dismiss the charge. That is what has happened to all my friends who were arrested for busking.

  6. Tomas Christiansen on March 14, 2012 at 9:08 am

    hi Natalia

    Thank you for the great inspiration

    I am from Denmark and I am planning a trip to N.Y. this spring, I wanna spend some time busking, just me and an acoustic guitar.

    I have read about the rules if you dont have a permit, but can you recommend some locations to set up, are some better than other?

    Love your sawplaying



  7. Anton on December 14, 2012 at 7:27 am

    Hi Natalia,
    I will be visiting NY during the month of January and wanted to try busking while I’m there. I play Bulgarian Gaida, Similar instrument to a bagpipe but in lower key and more pleasent sounding, not too loud. I’ve performed in Montreal’s metro before and people really enjoy it.
    I wanted to ask you , Do i need any kind of permit, or I can simply walk and change places if security apears. Also which stations are good to perform, not too crowded. I would really appreciate your suggestion, Thaks

  8. Jon Plant on February 11, 2013 at 2:10 am

    I just wanted to thank you for your music and your inspiration. I’ve long wanted to be a street musician. I first heard you perform in Union Square a while back. I’ve played on the street a few times. After checking out your blog, I’m going to apply for a permit to play in the subway.
    Thank you again, Jon Plant

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