Black Friday at the Union Square Subway Station


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November 29, 2008
By Posted in Union Square Subway Station | 6 Comments »

When I got to the Music Under New York busking spot at the Union Square subway station today I met the duo Mikanic there. They were just packing up their busking gear. Originally from South Africa Mike and Nick were accepted into MUNY three years ago, but have spent the past year in South Africa and are now back in town.
I asked them if there are any musical saw players in South Africa and they said there aren’t, but Mike’s father tried to play one after having seen it in a movie.
Nick plays a gorgeous African guitar – it is made of an oil can and there are bottle caps for buttons! Talk about going green and recycling! It has a good sound and an added bonus of a tinny sound when beating on it. Apparently these guitars are quite common in Africa. I bet if somebody imported them here he would make a fortune.

Oil Can Guitar

Anthony, the guitar playing Norteno, came up the stairs from the platform especially just to say ‘hi’ to me.
‘The Fellows’ – Bo, Chill and friend were singing on the trains. I expressed my grief to them about the Chinese erhu player who set up on me and was blasting his amplified erhu so loud that his sound was overpowering mine. I was at the spot first, so he must have heard me playing as he chose his spot. Why didn’t he set up a few feet away from my immediate surrounding area?
To this ‘The Fellows’ replied by telling me of their busking grief: busking ettiquette is that when you work the trains you enter the train from its end. This way buskers don’t step on each other’s territory. ‘The Fellows’ told me that the guitar players who work the trains enter the train in the middle, thus throwing havoc in the order. ‘The Fellows’ were singing, and all of a sudden some guitar players entered the subway car and started to play, even though ‘The Fellows’ were in the car first. ‘The Fellows’, being long time buskers, older and wiser, just left the train, avoiding confrontation.
At this point, I had the erhu player on the platform on my right and a steel drummer somewhere on my left…

The Fellows

Blackwolf, the Central Park Wizard, was on his way to meet a guy who works as a Santa Claus. He stopped to tell me that he will be performing at the Holiday Inn.

At 2pm a police officer very politely asked me to stop playing for 10 minutes or so, because the police has something going on and they need quiet. He was really nice and apologized for the disturbance in my performance. I saw a bunch of cops grouped by the stairs to the downtown trains for a while, then they moved to the token booth.

The nice lady who always says ‘hi’ at this station asked me how my Thanksgiving was. I noticed she has a hoarse throat.
Saw Lady: “Drink lots of either hot water or hot tea, and take vitamin C”.
Lady: “Oh, yea? Someone told me lemon and honey”.
Saw Lady: “Put the lemon and honey in the hot water or tea for best results”.
Subway musicians often act as tourist information centers and as bankers (people asking to change a dollar). Now I can add ‘doctor’ to the list :)

Shogu, the Japanese guitarist, walked by and the guy who does ‘I Heart’ communal art work on big canvases waved to me.

Art work of the 'I Heart' artist

At 3:30 Marc of ‘Mecca Bodega’ had a permit to play his dulcimer at the spot. Usually he plays with his brother, but Paul went down south for a while. Marc doesn’t play Christmas music during the Christmas season. He said he had too much of it growing up. Me on the other hand – I love Christmas music. It is really easy to play on the musical saw :)

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6 Responses to Black Friday at the Union Square Subway Station

  1. Scott on November 29, 2008 at 3:56 am

    I am amazed at by your talent and have watched you several times. I was at union station friday night and saw a gentleman with one leg playing the guitar and his music really connected but I had to catch the L and live in colorado. Do you know who he is?
    Thanks Scott

  2. Shawn Grimes on November 30, 2008 at 7:29 pm

    I just loaded your Christmas CD onto my iPod to enjoy some of your Christmas tunes this season.

  3. Saw Lady on December 1, 2008 at 4:56 pm

    Hi Scott,
    Thank you for your kind words!
    Was the guitar player with one leg you saw sitting in a wheel chair?
    I know of at least 3 musicians who play guitar at the Union Square subway station who sit in a wheel chair. Was the one you saw African-American or not?

    Hi Shawn,
    How nice – thank you! I’m looking forward to your next visit to NYC.

  4. Kev Brown on December 8, 2008 at 5:17 pm

    That is one of the coolest guitars I have ever seen! I want one! :)

  5. Davey C. on January 5, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    That reminds me of a busking etiquette question I keep meaning to ask you: GENERALLY, is it considered rude to ask if you can sit in with a busker? If I showed up one day with my own saw while you were Inflaming The Subways With Sawyerly Passion and politely inquired whether I could join you and harmonize on a song or two with which we were both familiar (assume for the sake of the question that I’m very very good)(hee), making it well understood that I had no interest in any part of your take, might I need to worry that I’d be putting you in the possibly uncomfortable position of having to shoo away a fellow enthusiast?

    Not to worry — I’m not in a financial position to make the drive (let alone fly!) from Iowa to NYC any time in the next decade, it looks like.

    But I’m curious.
    Davey Collins, the Best Saw Player in Iowa.

  6. Saw Lady on January 7, 2009 at 9:57 pm

    Hi Davey,

    Of course it is not rude to ask if you can sit in with a busker. If the busker is freelancing – there wouldn’t be a logistics problem, but if the busker is a permitted one – that’s a whole different story:
    The way it works in NYC is that the busker has to perform in the exact formation he/she auditioned with for the permit. So, if the busker auditioned as a duo, as long as the busker who holds the permit is present, his 2nd person doesn’t have to be exactly the same person with whom he/she auditioned, but it has to be a person playing the same instrument as in the audition.
    If the busker auditioned as a soloist, and he lets another person perform with him/her under the permit banner (which you have to hang at the busking spot) – that busker risks getting expelled from the permit program!

    So – a freelancer might let you play along but a permitted busker would be foolish to let you join them – you might end up costing them to loose their good standing with the city (for life!) on account of breeching the permit contract…

    Anyway, if you ever did travel to NYC, I hope it would be in July, so that you could attend the annual NYC Musical Saw Festival ( http://www.MusicalSawFestival.org ). You are invited to perform with me there!

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