Suspicious Musical Instrument

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November 26, 2007
By Posted in Union Square Subway Station | 2 Comments »

On the train on my way to my spot for the day at the 14th street subway station there were 4 South American guys playing bass, two guitars and an accordion. They were wearing matching burgundy coats and white hats. They were traveling from car to car in the train, playing one song in each car. I guess they are called a Mariachi band.


On the elevator up to the mezzanine at the 14th street subway station there was a lady carrying big black plastic bags. It turned out she is the wife of Sixto, the Andean pan-flute player. I haven’t seen him nor his wife in a very long time. Her English has improved tremendously in the mean while. She told me Sixto is now working at a mall at White Plains. I think he plays Andean music while selling ponchos and other Andean stuff.

Sixto & his wife

As I was setting up, the musicians of the Mariachi band from the train were switching over from the downtown to the uptown train. The bass player waved to me.

A nice lady set on the floor in front of me, leaning against the pillar, eating. She offered me food but I explained I just had a large breakfast. She said her name is Nancy and she is 44 years old. She used to perform on Broadway, doing small parts in shows such as ‘Sugar Babies’. Now she gets welfare checks. She said first thing she does when she gets her check is pay all her bills. She said she usually doesn’t like instrumental music, but for the first time, listening to me made her enjoy instrumental music.

Two young guys with clipboards arrived in the station. One of them asked me “are you a registered Democrat?” I explained that I can’t talk politics while I’m working and he understood.

An older lady said she saw me last Sunday at Carnegie Hall. I confirmed that indeed that was me playing at Carnegie Hall last Sunday. I think the lady was a bit shocked to see me playing in the subway…

The guy with the clipboard kept approaching people who stopped to hear me play. That was annoying as he was scaring them away. I stopped playing, went over to him, explained that he was driving my audience away and asked him if he could please not do that. He was a bit surprised, but understanding. He moved further away from me.
At 2pm the Scientologists arrived and set up their red tables by the wall on my right. When one plays in the subway one has to learn to share the “stage” with many different people.


A police lady asked to see my permit. Her partner told her not to bother (he knew I was all right) but she asked for it any way. She wasn’t surprised to see that my papers were in order – she explained that somebody called in a complaint about me but she thinks that person just thought my musical instrument was suspicious… :)


On the train back home there was a different Mariachi band playing – three South American guys playing accordion and two guitars. They were not wearing matching clothes but they all had black hats. As they passed by me one of the guitar players greeted me with a “how are you?” It’s so cool how all the musicians in the subway know one another. It feels like we are family.

Mariachi band


2 Responses to Suspicious Musical Instrument

  1. Insane on November 27, 2007 at 12:21 am

    As a visitor to your fair city, it’s a delight to see your site and I’m sure I’ll spend many moments looking through everything. It was recommended to me by Bellcollecting. The street musicians could keep me enthralled forever if my companions weren’t always rushing me away. I’m hoping to find video of you. Best wishes.

  2. Ramon on November 27, 2007 at 1:57 am

    It seems like the musicians you have in your pictures are most likely what we call Norteño musicians, their hats and their outfits plus the instruments you describe fit perfectly with that style. We have a lot of them in this region of southwestern texas and northern mexico, in fact that’s where the term Norteño comes from, from the mixture of traditional folk mexican music with a northern style added to it. In Juarez I see a lot of them but not in the streets, they are usually walknig from restaurant to restaurant playing songs to turist…the Mariachi band is a little more elaborate and usually uses at least either a trumpet or a violin.

    Cheers, I love your blog.

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