Monday, December 24, 2007

Vocals and keyboard: Midnight Mass

Brother Lee and Jillian playing

Segment on Brother Lee and Jillian

Jillian's interview old school Concretebeat style

Brother Lee's interview old school Concretebeat style

Merry Christmas from Concretebeat. Enjoy the gospel stylings of Brother Lee and Gillian Bennett.

Artists: Brother Lee, Jillian Bennett
Medium: Vocals, keyboard
Location: West Fourth Street Station

It was one-thirty on a Sunday. Traffic in New York’s West Fourth Street station was low and, for my part, I was just getting over a cold and just wanted to get home. When I heard Brother Lee and Jillian, though, I knew I had to turn on the camera and for nearly half an hour I filmed the duo’s non-stop, freestyle gospel.

Brother Lee and Jillian are two of a kind. Both converted to Christianity in their 20s and have decided to share their experience through joyful street performance. Like street performers who make their stage wherever they are, this pair considers whichever ground on which they sing their church and bring the energy of a full choir to the subway.

A native Brooklynite, Brother Lee is a software consultant for Fortune 500 companies. An ex-Marine, the GI Bill allowed Lee to attend college where he majored in Computer Science. He then pursued an MBA in Finance but when the market collapsed he left the program to teach and ultimately ended up consulting. You might ask how a seemingly straight laced guy comes to be singing in the subway.

Brother Lee has been singing and playing the piano in churches since he was about eight. Even so, he says he wasn’t religious until he was saved by “a couple of champions” when he was in the Marines. Lee’s ensuing religious devotion convinced him to become active in his faith and, recalling the Bible’s call to “go among the hedges and highways” took his evangelical singing to the subway.

Like Brother Lee, Jillian was converted to Christianity by “a champion” but other than that she has a very different story. Jillian started off in Maine but, after playing Peter Pan in a school play, her passion for performance took her to the exclusive Walnut Hill School, an art high school in Boston.

Although the school was rigorous, with professors drawn from Harvard and the top of the performance field, Jillian excelled. But much of Jillian’s success is due to her bold spirit. On the day of her graduation rehearsal, for example, Jillian snuck out to audition for Boston Pop Idol. While everyone at the school was sitting around wondering where Jillian was, she was busy making her way on to the next day’s Boston Globe (so if Jillian looks familiar maybe she is). Although she didn’t win the contest Jillian did not give up and, with the encouragement of her peers and fans, rented a PA from a street performer and busked for money so that she could attend the 2005 American Idol auditions in Washington, D.C. Of the thousands of people who attended, Jillian was one of the rare gems who actually made it on TV and into the Washington Post (so if Jillian looks familiar, maybe she is). While Jillian did not make it to L.A. she not disheartened and, in retrospect, is thankful. After returning to Boston, Jillian was invited to sing the National Anthem at Fenway Park (so if Jillian looks familiar, maybe she is) and it was on the commute to the ballpark that she was first introduced to her new faith. Now Jillian is thankful that she has found something which grounds her so that when fame does come she won’t be “so caught up in vain glory” and lose her way like celebrities such at Britney Spears.

Brother Lee and Jillian are committed to their faith and have hopes of starting their own church someday but the two are also committed music and are happy to play secular music at secular locations. But most of all they enjoy playing in the subway. Perhaps Brother Lee puts it best: “When you know the lord you know it’s not about you, it’s about people, because God made people. And God made people for us to enjoy. We are to enjoy one another…I love God first, and God says, in the word, to do like Jesus did…and touch people…and it could be about yourself to do that.”

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Live Appearances In December '07: Pesu, Greg Patillo and Eric Stevenson, Max ZT, Melissa the Loud

Pesu's performance below video

Dec 15th. (Sat) 2007
Old-Souls, Voodoo Ray, Danny Castro, Daudo & Mariyam present:
flow @ Chanto (133 7th Ave. South)

" PESU's Birthday Bash!"

Door: 11pm - 4am
Entrance: FREE (Just mention our name)

Greg Patillo and Eric Stevenson’s performance info below video

Most days at midnight at the Broadway-Lafyette station going downtown. Tell ‘em Concretebeat sent you.

They also perform regularly at the night club The Box

Max ZT’s performance info below video

Friday December 7th
Bowery Poetry Club 8-10pm
308 Bowery, Manhattan
$8 cover
(F train to Second Ave, or 6 train to Bleecker)

This show will feature my group, NAYA:
Moto Fukushima (bass)-
Luke Notary (percussion)-
Rich Stein (percussion)
myself (dulc)
Josh Geisler (guitar, flutes)-

Melissa's performance info below video

Every Wednesday, 7:00-10:30pm
Je'Bon, 15 St. Marks Place

Monday, December 10, 2007

Vocals, guitar and drum: Susan Cagle

Susan playing in the subway

Interview with the band

Susan playing at Rockwood Music Hall

Interview with the band

Artists: Susan Cagle (vocals, electric guitar), Will Flint (bass guitar), Ainsley Powell (drums), Renzo Jimenez (techie, fro’), Travis (techie, red hair)
Medium: Vocals, electric guitar, electric bass guitar, drum set
Location: 42nd Street Times Square Station by the S

Artists: Susan Cagle (vocals, electric guitar), Caroline Cagle (bass guitar), Peter Barr (drums)
Medium: Vocals, electric guitar, electric bass guitar, drums
Location: Rockwood Music Hall, Allen St. Between Stanton and E. Houston (that’s How-ston for you tourists)

What’s going on, why are there two entries? Don’t worry, I’ve got an explanation. I initially met Susan Cagle at the first location with the first band maybe a year ago…meh, more like 8 months. This was in my early days, note all the footage of the audience, and I wasn’t sure the chaotic interview was going to work. As a result I figured I’d do a follow up. Yeah, she’s hot but I honest, I just wanted to know a little more about her. In any event that didn’t happen and I put the project on indefinite hold since I wasn’t sure Susan wanted the videos up after we lost contact.

Then, a few weeks ago I ran into Susan in the second location with the second band while they were packing up. She said she was cool with the videos and I did an interview with the new group. Of course, if I were going to have an interview I needed musical footage. Susan invited me to tape them at the Rockwood gig and the rest is history.

The First Band
The way I was told the band was put together on a bet. Susan dared all the guys to take their clothes off and, since they did, she let them be in her band. You might ask where she found guys willing to do that but it’s pretty simple – in New York.

Susan herself started playing for large audiences in the subway. Around 2001, after having been into music for a long time and having been brought up in a musical family she decided to get serious, start composing and start playing in public. Once out there, she met other musicians, started her band and, eventually, got picked up by Columbia records.

Susan has had an interesting life. She traveled around the world with her family as a child and, as a result, has been mostly home schooled or self-taught. She did attended formal schooling in both Germany and Holland, though, and is fluent in German. Although Renzo mentioned she’s from Aruba she actually isn’t, a common misconception. In reality her parents were just passing through when was born – she’s actually American.
Ainsley Powell, the drummer, is also from a musical family. His father is a musican and it was “kind of natural for me to start playing with all the instruments in the house.”

Like Ainsley and Susan, bassist Will Flint also finds doing the family thing. “Following the family dream,” as he puts it.

Travis, the redheaded CD pusher is also a musician but prefers to be a techie in public and just plays music for himself.

Like Travis, Renzo also plays music even though he plays techie for the band – and it’s not a family thing. Instead, Renzo said he picked up the guitar by accident. His brother, Jonathan, bought a guitar so he could hang it on his wall at college to pick up chicks but never learned to play. As a result Renzo took it upon himself to make use of the instrument. As for teching, Renzo says he found the Susan Cagle gig on Craig’s List.

Like what you hear? Check out the band's

influences - Bob Dillan, Lauren Hill, Sheryl Crow, Dave Chappelle
website -

Really like what you hear? Contact

The Second Band
Caroline Cagle, the bassist, is Susan’s sister, so that explains that. Peter Barr met Susan at a mutual friend’s gig after having seen her playing in the subway. He ended up playing with her at Rockwood and now, as he puts it, they’re “like best friends.”

Peter himself has been playing since he was 12 and always wanted to be a musician. Peter is a street veteran and, before New York used to play in the streets in Boston, Europe and Canada whenever he had some spare time. He enjoys playing in public saying “I like playing so any place can be a nice place,” adding “it’s a really good way to get people who otherwise wouldn’t hear you if you were just doing gigs. They might not make into a pub or some place you were playing live.”

Peter's inspirations: Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Coltrane, as well as his own band composed of Jo Jo Quo, Tony Sedras, Dimitri Yushenko. He also gives prop to a lot of older music of the rock and jazz genres.

Caroline, Susan’s sister, is an ardent bassist. “It’s funny because everyone in my family has played an instrument but I just kind of wanted to play bass. I thought…it was my thing.” True to her passion Caroline, with the support of her musical family, taught her herself to play the bass at a young age and has been playing music ever since.

Caroline enjoys working with her sister is “easy” since she knows her sister’s style and they mesh well. She also cites Susan as an important musical influence. However, she says that playing with Susan in the subway is fun, it’s not easy – lugging the gear, dealing with the people, “it’s crazy”.

While born in Miami and raised in Germany Caroline says New York has always been a home and it’s a place to which she’s always come back; “it’s just not the same as anywhere else.”

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Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Poetry: Donald Green

A reading by Donald Green

Interview with Donald Green

Artist: Donald Green
Medium: Poetry
Location: University Avenue right off of Washington Square Park (but I’ve also seen him right outside West Fourth Station)

A poet of the utmost urbanity, Donald Green pedals his wares on the sidewalks of the great Manhattan byways. Seated at his folding table, with large mountings of his favorite poems flanking Mr. Green is more than happy to engage passing pedestrians in manner that is anything but. In his worn jacket and rumfled shirt you would not suppose that the man before you is anything less than poetic and that his regular manner of speech would have your forget your place and believing you were in the middle of a spontaneous theatrical dialogue. Such are the ways of Donald Green.

Such are the ways of a man who, as a young boy in Harlem, living just near the former house of Langston Hughes, felt different and turned to writing as his sanctuary. Such are the ways of a man whose father was standard working class but chose to work at Columbia University’s Library by day, study writing by night and sell poetry on the street.

Mr. Green has had a truly interesting career. After studying briefly at Columbia he began publishing his work. His work has appeared in books alongside such illustrious poets as Robert Frost, Langston Hughes and Donald Hall. He wrote The New York Times Millenium Poem in 2000 and was the lead off article in a New York Magazine spread on writers. Richard Rueben’s article “For a Pushcart Poet Life is Getting Verse and Verse” in 1997 was followed by articles on Patti Smith, Jim Carol, Mia Farow and more. Mr. Green also has a recorded reading with the Columbia School of Journalism on permanent archive which you can find at the school’s website.

In the midst of all this Mr. Green was persistently pursuing a career of poetry in his unique way. After saving up a few thousand dollars, Mr. Green left his job at Columbia to commit himself to writing. After quickly using up his savings, Mr. Green decided not to accept an offer to return to his previous job, but to persist while staying with his twin brother in Brooklyn who is “very traditional in his way of life”. Then, as Mr. Green tells it, recently (that is, a decade ago) he got the idea to try selling his poetry on the street in Brooklyn. “And the first person I asked bought a poem from me, and I was on my way.”

Today, Mr. Green sells collections of his poetry, some typed some hand written, in hand made anthologies on the street. He is also unafraid of the challenge to create spontaneously and will write a personalized poem upon request. However, as much as Mr. Green enjoys this life and feels it has contributed to his abilities, noting, “it’s given me a lot to write has helped me a great deal with writing,” he says his time on the street is drawing to an end. Now he hopes be a more traditional writer and publish books of his poetry as well as a musical he has been working on.

Some poems by Donald Green:

Blue Joy
Out of gray
came a bright blue
He sat upon my window sill
and for and instant - no
more than a ray of sun
in the whirl of time – we
stared at one another

He then lifted his blue wings
and gently returned to the gray

I combed my hair
I brushed my teeth
I dressed
I then had my morning lemon
and went off to work

And when the gray had
gone to yellow and from
yellow to a soft mellow
brown, I gathered my things and rushed home.

I wanted to see if he had
come again with evening time


I could not really say.

Perhaps this is what
loneliness can come to

When the Friend is You - Written by Donald Green on the spur of the moment
And a friend,
begins in
my mirror,
Not Alone in one
I can encounter.
For if the friend is not in my mirror,
how is it possible
to join
with someone
Is it possible even
to look with
beauty consistent
at the wonderous
All that’s about us,
Without ever at first
To relish the self,
can God be company without
What bond, connection,
celebration can there honestly be
without the ONE before

Like what you see? Order a manuscript or a poem or just leave some love

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Guitar: Geo

Geo playing

Geo playing

Interview with Geo

Artist: Geovanni “Geo” Suquillo
Medium: Guitar
Location: Union Square Station on the mezzanine above the Q,N,R platforms

Geovanni Suquillo, or Geo as his fans know him, has come to New York by way of Ecuador and then Europe. As a boy in Ecuador Geo started studying guitar 13-15 years ago, went to school for it and then went to tour Europe where he played in several cities in several countries including Spain, France and Norway.

While he was abroad Geo always wanted to come to New York to “know what’s happening here.” Therefore, after studying with an important guitarist in Spain Geo packed up and came the U.S. In the end he decided he liked it so much he stayed.

Now that he’s in New York, Geo plays in the subway to support his true goal, composing music for movies. Geo is studying composition and works to create music in his own style which he characterizes as a fusion. “Fusion because it’s…my roots, my Latin culture and I pick some little harmonies from things like jazz and Spanish/Flemenco music.” Geo particularly likes instrumental works and is influenced by musicians like Yanni. He find the New Age style relaxing and likes the peace and meditative thought it invokes.

Geo says that he enjoys playing in the subway for several reasons. Not only is it fun, but most of the work he receives and the fans he has made have come from his subway work.
“Sometimes you don’t make money but you have something to in the weekend…you always have some birthday party, wedding, something.” This space is like a commercial on TV he explains, maybe even better. He also notes that he’s happy to play underground as he makes more money than working in another job.

Like what you hear?
Check out his influences - Yanni and, please forgive me and watch interview, I can't spell anyone else's name

Really like what you hear? Contact him

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Live Appearances In November '07: Greg Patillo and Eric Stevenson, Max ZT, Trip, Luke Ryan, Melissa the Loud

Greg Patillo and Eric Stevenson’s performance info below video

Most days at midnight at the Broadway-Lafyette station going downtown. Tell ‘em Concretebeat sent you.

They also perform regularly at the night club The Box

Max ZT’s performance info below video

Thursday, November 29th
Galapagos Art Space
70 N. 6th St
$7 cover ($5 for mailing list)
(L train to Bedford)

performing with quintet Naya:
Moto Fukushima (bass)-
Luke Notary (percussion)-
Rich Stein (percussion)
Brandon Terzic (guitar)-
Max ZT (dulc)

Trip's performance below info below video

November 28th at the Lion's Den, New York

Luke Ryan

9 bleeker street......
November 30...8:00.....212 677 5918
also visit

Melissa's performance info below video

Every Wednesday, 7:00-10:30pm
Je'Bon, 15 St. Marks Place


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Electric Guitar, acoustic guitar, bass, fiddle, saxaphone: King's County Crawlers

The King's County Crawler's playing with some awesome solos

The King's County Crawlers playing

The King's County Crawlers

An interview with the King's County Crawlers

Artists: Nikhil P. Yerawadekar, Mikey Hart, Dave Dawda, Liz Hanley, Aurora Nealon
Medium: Electric guitar (Nikhil), Acoustic Guitar (Mikey), Bass (Dave), Fiddle (Liz), Saxaphone (Aurora)
Location: Washington Square Park (West side by the statue)

The Kings County Crawlers are a primarily a bluegrass band composed of people who, primarily, just got into bluegrass about 6 months ago (that’s about the time they started playing together). The band is comprised of four regulars who met at NYU and, in this case, a guest appearance by a saxophonist who is a friend but isn’t officially in the group.

Nikhil P. Yerawadekar is a Queens resident and has been in NY all his life. He’s been playing music for about as long and has decided to remain in the city for the music scene. He recently got into bluegrass and is also a big fan of traditional jazz and swing. Nikhil studied music education at NYU and is teaching but “I’m not gonna say where ‘cause I don’t wanna make the reputation bad or anything.” How modest.

Mikey Hart, the raspy lead voice of the Crawlers hails from Lack Charles, Louisiana. I caught Mikey while he was tallying up the proceeds from the day’s work and, when asked why he’s in New York he hollered out “there’s $60, someone remember” and with a grin said “the money.” Mikey grew up playing music but notes that bluegrass isn’t really a Louisiana thing, that’s really jazz and Cajun sounds. Instead, he says, “I’m appropriating bluegrass” although he reminded me that both styles of music do have the fiddle in common.

Dave Dawda is from Seattle, Washington and came to New York for music and school. Like his band members he’s been into music his whole life and has studied music at NYU. Dave is happy to be playing with his friends reminiscing that “we started this up a few months ago, it’s been fun, it’s fun to get out in the sun, you know, relaxin’.”

Liz Hanley is a Redsocks girl. Well, I don’t know that but she is from Boston, Massachusetts. She told me she studies classical violin at NYU (to which her band members all chimed in – “ooh fancy.”) and that bluegrass is “something I recently decided I like…there’s a lot of music around, you just get into it.” Liz commented that some her liking of bluegrass, though, has to do with her liking of her great band.

Aurora Nealon is all the way from California and has come to NY for music. She was in New Orleans for the past two or three years but after Katrina made her way up to New York. She likes New York but misses New Orleans lamenting that “it’s getting smaller and smaller.” While not officially a member of the Crawlers, Aurora is their friend and, when they found her playing in Washington Square Park when they arrived, invited her to play.

The King’s County Crawlers thoroughly enjoy playing outside. Nikhil explains: “[you] don’t have to deal with bad owners…a lot of the problems with clubs, like them taking the money from you, doesn’t exist because you have a direct interaction with the audience. And it’s nice to be in the out of doors.”
Like what you hear? Check out some of their influences
Some Influences: Carter Family, Bob Wills, Bruce Arnold, Bono, Winton

Really like what you hear? Hire ‘em

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Charcoal and Paint: Tom Barlow

Tom Barlow doing some charcoal work

An interview with Tom Barlow

Some of Tom's work
Some of Tom's work

Tom Barlow painting
Tom at work

Artist: Tom Barlow
Medium: Charcoal, oil, acrylic, pencil, sculpture
Location: South East corner of Union Square

Tom Barlow is a multi-faceted fellow. Initially from upstate New York (near Buffalo) Tom is a renaissance man – or at least artist – working in a variety of media including silkscreen, acrylic, oil, watercolor, pencil, charcoal and sculpture. If you’re asking how a man becomes so skilled in so many things (and his work is quite good, especially the charcoal), Tom explains that he was always good at this sort of stuff and it just became his career. He did go to school for art, though, at University of Binghamton and the fine arts school in Buffalo.

Tom does “a kind of new realism, it’s not connected with photography, it’s all done from space with three dimensional space.” He says that he enjoys this form of art because it’s more challenging than working from a still life. The scenery is always changing, the light is changing, even your perspective is changing. Moving a few feet can completely alter a picture or inform a new idea on how to change the piece. Furthermore, Tom likes the street. “I’m used to it and I find it very stimulating, it really forces me to focus despite everything that’s going on…I find it incredibly dull to work from a photo or work in a studio all the time.”

Although not a native city-dweller Tom is quite inamorate of the place. He came down from upstate some 12 years ago for a friend’s wedding and just decided to stay. “It’s very conducive to the arts, people will pay for good art. It’s a little hard making sales upstate.” But it’s not all about the money, New York is just a great city, and Tom should know. He’s been commissioned to work in London, stayed over in Paris and outright lived in Montreal, working from life on the street in all places, of course. Of New York Tom says: “I find New York easier. There’s more elbow room, it’s bigger. Europe, everything’s tight, and small, more constrained…I noticed, after I came back from London how nice and roomy it is here, freedom.”

However, Tom isn’t uncritical of the city. He dislikes the way New York is changing – the gentrification, the abandonment and gutting of old buildings and the work being done by the newer architects. “I don’t care for it…I don’t think they’re doing a good thing.” As we were speaking, Tom pointed out that the building behind me, in fact, was being gutted and it’s decorative pillars capped to serve as a condo in a high land value area. While he feel this detracts from the character of the city he admits “it’s probably a natural process, so what can we do?” And it’s not that Tom is reminiscent for high crime and grittiness but he did say “the 80s were great.” And, with a chuckle, revised it to “yeah, good for art and crazy life…things were cheaper and a little scarier. In the subway you sometimes felt threatened. But it was beautiful in it’s own way.”

Tom is primarily known for his architecture work and, if you’re looking at the picture above, you’ll agree his Wall Street silk screen is quite taking. But he also does sketches on the subway noting that it’s “pretty intense. It’s like going to the zoo, you get to see specimens in their natural habitat.”

Like a true New Yorker Tom leaves the following message: “We’re running out of space here, stay where you are.” I can only assume he forgot to add: “I’m talking to you, tourists, learn how to swipe a metrocard.”

Influences: Fan K'uan from the Sung dynasty, Van Gogh, Hokusai, Hiroshige and other print makers, the impressionists, the renaissance, the medieval ages – you name it.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Bucket drums, African jembe, bass drum, hand drum, shaker, saxaphones: The Drumadics

Full song from The Drumatics

Spliced pieces of a really, really long song. Yeah, I know, the video doesn't synch up in the middle section but it's still awesome.

Founder Will Johnson talks about the idea of the band and the music.

The rest of the band talks about the music and their lives.

Medium: Bucket drums, African jembe, shaker, bass drum, African dun duns, alto sax and alto sax
Artists: William Johnson (buckets), David Park (bass drum), Alla (jembe), Alissa (African dun duns), Joel (shaker), Welf Dorr (alto sax), Nick Gianni (baritone sax)
Location: 42nd Street Times Square Station

William Johnson, Bronx resident, is responsible for this motley and highly talented crew of musicians. Founder of the Drumatics, he has been playing in the subways and on the streets of New York for well over 10 years. After being around for so long, Will has become an innovator has created a band which incorporates many of the cultural sounds unique to New York areas like Times Square, 34th St., Herald Square and Penn Station into a coherent art form. So, for example, you would normally see an individual instrumentalist playing by his or herself, a sax here, a drummer there. Will decided to combine them with his drums to make a whole new style of music that is uniquely American and uniquely New York. Will takes great pride in the extent to which his band’s music captures the sound of America, a well blended combination of several styles of music and types of instruments. “America has one of everybody…we actually have 15, 20 of everybody. So take all that rhythm and all of that culture and you put it in one room you have America.” So when people are on their way to and from work we like to lock them into that culture and diversity. Will himself lends an urban, industrial tone with his bucket drums while others blend in African, Carribean, jazz and funk flavors. Will’s goal is to make his and his original partners’ drum work more musical and accessible to people who are not necessarily into just the buckets or just industrial rhythm.

Will has been playing music his whole life, starting with the violin, flute and piano. In high school he began playing the drums with the original bucket drummers Larry Wright and JR. They would invite him to play with them and challenge him to improve. Now, after playing on the streets with them he’s living it up in the Subway. Of course, the Drumatics also do gigs, though, and right now have an off Broadway project called “Drumatics: American Culture Defined.”

David Parks plays the bass drum, the really big one that requires him to stand. Well, he plays a lot of other things as well but here he plays the bass. He moved to NY about three years where he met Will. He explains that when they met he happened to have his drum with him, Will mentioned he was looking for someone and “ever since I’ve been part of the group.”

David truly enjoys playing in public. “[T]o be honest with you, it gives me a chance to do what drumming is actually intended for, which is to bring communities together…Whenever you see a circle around drummers, that’s an ancient thing and, in this day and age, that I get to participate in that process, I feel that’s a big thing in my life…I dig playing the drums for the people who enjoy it.” He adds further that “this isn’t necessarily performance for us…we’re not pretending at all.”

David says that initially stardom is what brought him to New York. He picked up the drums after going to cooking school and was looking from something “a little more challenging, a little more grassroots/up-start…a little less corporate.” After playing in several different African dance companies and traveling to Africa, he found what he was looking for in the Drumatics. He likes the band so much, in fact, that he turned it into a family affair.

Alla is David’s son. Nine at the time of this interview, he has been playing for 7 years (since he was two if you’re too lazy to do the math). Alah came to join his father from Portland, OR. Alah explains that originally he came to NY with his father one summer and began playing with him on cans, noting, though, that “soon enough we got some new drums.” After returning to Portland at the end of the summer, Alah was invited back by David after he joined the Drumatics. At first Alah was a bit hesitant to play with the new band but now he’s really into it and says that he would like to be drummer when he grows up.

Alissa, the only female of the group comes all the way from Trinidad. After witnessing some amazing drumming in the Trinidadian “Best Village” competition Alissa knew she had to play. Unfortunately there are not many female drummers and she found it difficult to find a teacher. After tenaciously beating on any solid object she could find, however, she was finally accepted into a drum company. She has continued with her passion to this day and is now attending Marymount College for a degree in performing arts.

Alissa met Will and them in the subway about a year and half ago and has found the experience quite educations. Having been traditional African drumming for 5 years, Will has been trying to get her to open up and try new ways of drumming.

Joel, like Alissa, is from the Carribean. A drummer from Jamaica Joel is actually in the U.S. to study science. After school Joel plans to have a traditional career in his field but, in the meantime at least, finds drumming really fun. He’s been drumming ever since he was a baby but has only been working the shaker since he joined the Drumatics about three years ago.

Joel really likes working the Subway. “I love coming down to the subway. High energy, a lot of people…there’s different people from all over the world. It’s not a club scene, it’s a subway.”

Welf Dorr, familiar to Concretebeat veterans from his work with the Underground Horns, met Joel in the subway and, through him, started playing with the Drumatics. Welf then brought Nick Gianni, another Underground Horns member into the fold.

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Like what you see? Hire 'em or contact for more information about their show

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Martial Street Art - Tai Chi, Bagua, Capoeira: Roberto Sharpe

A capoeira class with Roberto

A lesson in capoeira street tactics

Capoeira sparring

A lecture on Tai Chi push hands

A lesson in Tai Chi push hands combat (see above video first if you don't know what push hands is)

A lesson in Chinese martial art combat and street applications

A Tai Chi Class with Roberto

Interview with Roberto about real fighting and being a black martial aritist

Interview with Roberto about his life

Artist: Roberto Sharpe
Medium: Tai Chi, bagua, Xingyi, capoeira, judo, karate, boxing, jiu-jitsu, xuejiao and others
Location: Thompson Square Park on the Lower East Side

Roberto Sharpe will kick your ass. With Tai Chi. Well, no, he won’t. But he could. “Those of us who have been around a while know that the human life is the most precious thing we have and you don’t just go around challenging people.” That being said, Roberto has been challenged many times in his life, often, he says, because people want test his slow, stately art of Tai Chi. Having suffered no permanent injuries Roberto modestly says that, in terms of showing his martial prowess, he’s done OK and notes “most people walk away from me feeling like…I’m alright.” As in, an alright guy, not merely a decent fighter. “I don’t try to hurt anyone, unless of course it’s really called for.” Of course, you can afford to be modest if you’ve been as successful in competition as Roberto has, you trophies will speak for you.

Roberto has been studying the martial arts since he was a young boy. Coming from a martial arts oriented family, he started with Judo when he was very young and continued learning throughout his life studying, most notably, karate as a teenager, Jiu-Jitsu and Tiger Claw later on and, in the latest stage capoeria, boxing and Tai Chi and its sister arts Bagua and Xingyi. But Roberto isn’t limited to just these styles, of course not, these are just the ones he comments on most readily.

Now Roberto is most committed to Tai Chi. He feels that Tai Chi’s slow, methodical style allows a person to study their own nature – the way they move, the way they react, the way they think – and make themselves a better person all around. He notes that great athletes like Tiger Woods, have themselves taped and watch their movement in slow motion to acquire deeper understanding of their action. Roberto personally advises skipping the cash outlay and just taking things slowly. As such, Tai Chi is a philosophy of combat that Roberto incorporates into all his martial arts and, in turn, allows all his martial arts to contribute to.

As a true practitioner of Asian martial arts, Roberto does the Asian thing and practices openly in the park. Just like in China, or Chinatown for that matter, where throngs of people gather in public spaces to study their martial arts, so too do Roberto and his students. In fact, it was as a function of practicing outdoors that people started requesting lessons from him. A holder of degrees from both Columbia University and New York Law Roberto never envisioned that he would be making a living teaching martial arts full time. In fact, up until a few years ago he wasn’t. After law school Roberto was a parole defense attorney. When Bloomberg came in to office, however, his hard stance towards crime left little room for Roberto’s job. Thus, Roberto made the switch to full-time instructor, a job he finds equally fulfilling. “To me, they’re all part of a similar mission which is try to help those who need the help…[Such as those] who are in prison who can’t possibly help themselves.”

Although Roberto now teaches in gyms, schools, retirement homes and other institutions, he still loves doing it in the park. “If there’s a lot of people we have a great time…if there’s one person we have a great time and if it’s just me I still have a great time.” And, if you find him in the park, he’ll teach you anything you want to know. I’ve seen him doing Tai Chi, Bagua, Capoeria, Boxing and MMA. Ultimately, though, Roberto teaches people to be comfortable with whoever they are and whichever style becomes them. A practitioner of his own form, Liberation Martial Arts, Roberto seeks generate confidence in physical ability and awareness to free the psyche of needs and insecurities, to make a person free from their troubles and individual shackles. Like many martial artists Roberto does not endorse violent action but like all martial artists, he understands that without investigating your own capacity for violence and for dealing with violent aggression, even in self-defense, you are never free of its threat. Roberto likes to talk about the holy man who, when assaulted by a street tough, loses all comport and risks killing out of confusion and out of lack of preparation for an intensely stressful scenario.

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Like what you see? Take a class
Thompson Square Park - Wednesdays and Fridays from 10-12, weather permitting (i.e. rain, he does it in the cold). Only $25 suggested donation for a 2 hour lesson

Really like what you see? Get in contact

Monday, October 8, 2007

Hurdy Gurdy: Melissa "The Loud" Kacalanos

Melissa playing

Interview with Melissa - includes explantion of the hurdy gurdy

Artist: Melissa “The Loud” Kacalanos
Medium: Hurdy Gurdy
Location: Union Square

I consider myself a pretty well educated and cultured individual but truly, I did not know what I was looking at when I saw Melissa The Loud playing her hurdy gurdy in Union Square. With most of its machinations hidden within its casing, the hurdy gurdy is a bit of a mystery to your average New Yorker, or average anybody for that matter. Melissa, though, was nice enough to explain the instrument to me.

The hurdy gurdy, which saw its heyday in medieval and renaissance Europe, is powered by a crank wheel which rubs against a loop of string laid parallel to its axis of rotation. As the wheel imparts kinetic energy to both sides of the loop, the string vibrates producing sound. Within the casing, then, are rows of teeth, or keys, which the player presses against the vibrating strings to create notes. Melissa was quick to note that this makes the hurdy gurdy on of the rare keyboard instruments on which you can bend notes. While written descriptions can be helpful, perhaps the interview above, where Melissa opens up the instrument, would be even more helpful. Anyway, enough about the hurdy gurdy.

Melissa, a resident of Queens started playing the hurdy gurdy about 5 years ago. After she saw someone else playing it she decided it was so cool she must have one for herself. She was able to get a few lessons from the person who made her instrument but after that it was mostly self-teaching, “the lessons were very valuable,” though, she states.

Melissa plays both traditional pieces from all Europe, mostly from the Medieval and Renaissance periods, as well as original ones. As inspirations she cites “a whole bunch of people I’m sure no one has ever heard of” including – Paul Ash (the first person she heard playing the hurdy gurdy), Nigel Eaton (a hurdy gurdy virtuoso), traditional bagpipe music (especially the Hungarian variety) and Medieval Spanish stuff.

A hard worker, Melissa plays gigs every week with her band and out on the street almost everyday weather permitting. This day she was outside practicing for a gig but she enjoys playing in public because she meets cool people and likes to educate the populace.
“There’s so many wonderful instruments in the world and so many people only know about a small fraction of them.” Melissa tells me that many people approach her and ask what kind of guitar she’s playing, once she tells them they often say:

“Oh, I see it’s like a cross between a guitar and an accordion.” To which she responds
“No, it’s more like a cross between a nyckelharpa and a trampamarina.”

“And that just confuses them more”

In the spirit of this, Melissa told me that the Metropolitan Museum of Art has a great collection of unusual instruments. Also, in keeping with her mold breaking instrumentalism, her message to all us is to “go out and do something different.”

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To get in contact with Melissa check out her site or email

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Live Appearances In October '07: Greg Patillo and Eric Stevenson, Max ZT, Pesu, Break of Reality, Ande Sedwick, Larry Wilson, Welf Dorr

Greg Patillo and Eric Stevenson’s performance info below video

Most days at midnight at the Broadway-Lafyette station going downtown. Tell ‘em Concretebeat sent you.

Max ZT’s performance info below video

Thursday, October 4th
Le Grand Dakar - 9pm until ~11pm
285 Grand Ave, Brooklyn (between Lafayette and Greene)
$5 cover
(G train to Classon. walk one block against traffic on Lafayette. Make a left on Grand)

Wednesday, October 24th
Bowery Poetry Club 11pm-??
308 Bowery, Manhattan
$6 cover
(F train to Second Ave, or 6 train to Bleecker)

Pesu's performance info below video

Old-Souls presents: Art of Autumn @ Isona restaurant / lounge
(57 Great Jones St. NY 10012)
gallery hours: mon-sat 5pm - 12am or by appointment

Opening reception: 10/07(Sun.) 5pm-10pm

Closing party : 10/28(Sun.) 5pm - 10pm

Join us on Oct 7th for the reception party. We will have Live art provided by Yushi aka PESU( Old-Souls) and Emrie along with DJ who deliver lounge music.

Isona special: $3 beer, $3 hand-roll

Break of Reality's performance info below video

Friday, November 2nd, 2007 - Break of Reality @
LaGuardia Performing Arts Center, 31-10 Thomson Avenue
Long Island City, NY, 11101. 8PM show, tickets $15.

Thursday, November 29th, 2007 - Break of Reality @ Eastman School of Music, Eastman Theater, Rochester, NY. 8PM performance as part of the Eastman PRISM concert, 75th Anniversary of NYSSMA.
Saturday, December 1st, 2007 - Break of Reality @ University of Rochester, Wilson Commons, Rochester, NY. 9PM-11PM performance. Acoustic and Electric performance.

Ande Sedwick's performance info below video

Wednesday October 31 at 11:00pm
The Bitter End
147 Bleecker Street (between Thompson and LaGuardia)
New York City, NY 10012

Welf's performance info below video

Friday, October 12 at 11:00pm
NuBlu, 62 Avenue C between 4th and 5th st.

Melissa's performance info below video

Every Wednesday, 7:00-10:30pm
Je'Bon, 15 St. Marks Place
12-14 Djinn plays East Coast Tribal belly dance music at Rakkasah East in Somerset, NJ.

Larry's gig info below video

Lion's Den in the Village, October 30 at 9pm

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Guitar Rock: Mike of Dark Matter

Mike playing

Interview with Mike

Artist: Mike from the band Dark Matter
Medium: Guitar and vocals
Location: Washington Square Park

I was introduced to Mike by longtime drummer and Washington Square artist Tyreke. A testament to the potential intimacy among the anonymous millions of the city, Mike met Tyreke in Washington Square Park and the two became friends through music. Both regulars to the park, Mike and Tyreke began jamming together this past summer. Mike
points out, though, that while New York is a great place to find musical collaboration, there are plenty of artists in the park with whom he doesn’t click.

Mike is a guitarist and vocalist in rock band Dark Matter and plays gigs with the band as well as jamming in the park. Initially from Brooklyn, Mike taught himself to play guitar as a child and has been pursuing music ever since. Now a native of the village, Mike enjoys coming to the park to “meet chicks, get high and have fun.” Mike says that playing in public “keeps him off the street and out trouble” noting, with a wry chuckle, that he’s been coming to the park for “a few years, just a few.”

Currently Mike and his band Dark Matter are recording a CD of original tunes. When the CD is done the other guitarist in the group wants to get a permit to play on the Washington Square Park stage – Mike’s got his reservations. Although he admits the potential economic benefit of amping up on the stage, Mike explains “when bands play and they’re, like, loud and we’re over here trying to play we’re kina pissed off about it. I don’t wanna be one of those guys.”

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Regardless, Dark Matter’s music is good and if you like what you hear try contacting Mike and his band

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Puppet Show: The Puppet State Players

Puppet show

Interview plus extra scenes

Artists: The Puppet State Players – Noah Applemayer and Colin Hagendorf
Medium: Puppet theater
Location: Union Square by the Ghandi statue

And, in a thick Brooklyn accent, Barney says: “And so then, I’m standing there in my own living room and the repo man walks in and he just starts taking my stereo. And I was like, listen buddy, you can’t touch that. Next thing I know I wake up in a pile of my own blood and piss.” Can you imagine that? Well, you don’t have to because you can watch it (it’s in the middle of the show with an alternate version at the end of the interview vid).

This is the work of puppeteers and comedy writers Noah Applemayer and Colin Hagendorf. With little or no experience, Noah and Colin entered the world of comedy puppet theater during the 2004 RNC in New York. Here’s how it went down –

[a hotel in Italy]
*ring ring*
Noah: “Have you ever done a puppet show before?”
Colin: “No, I haven’t. I got no experience”
Noah: Well, okay, that’s good ‘cause we’re gonna do a puppet show together during the

Suprised that people actually stopped and watched, the duo stuck with their theatrical hobby. Now Noah and Colin have seven or eight different scripts under their belt along with a couple of hundred performances. Longtime veterans, the two can easily run off the reasons they enjoy performing on the street. For starters, they don’t have to solicit and audience, send out pamphlets, beg their friends to come all the time or any of that crap. Instead they say, “[our friends] come but we can get an audience of strangers which is nice.” For these reasons the puppeteers say working the street is “way more gratifying than performing in a venue.” Well, that and other things.

Noah and Colin also note that the street is better because it allows for feedback. In theaters, they explain, you don’t really get a lively response (compared to the street) and you don’t have to work for the audience. “If we bring a shitty show out on the street people split. The public is a fickle, fickle mistress.” Thus, when they first attempted their Guantanamo Prison Camp hot dog eating contest they thought they had a hit only to be met with the proverbial tumbleweed. Once they started throwing hot dogs at the audience, however, they really did have a hit. The growth and freedom the street provide are “addictive” in the words of Noah, and their benefits are only marginally diminished by the BS of permits and cops.

In case you were wondering, Noah and Colin do have real jobs and laughed at my question of whether street puppet theater is profitable. Noah, does a bunch of cool stuff but mainly paints houses for cash. Colin is a cook.

Noah Applemayer hails from Whitefield Maine and has been in New York for several years. Colin Hagendorf hails from New Rochelle and has also been in the city for several years.

Like what you see? Book a show

Really like what you see? Here are some of their influences
Pee Wee Herman, Mr. Shoe, Home Movies, Frisky Dingo, Venture Bros. (Cartoon Network, if you’re watching, pay me for my advertising)

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Matchstick Construction: James "the Matchstick Man"

James working

Interview with James

More photos at Flickr - just click the pic

More photos at Flickr - just clikc the pic

Artist: James the Matchstick Man
Medium: Matchsticks
Location: Washington Square Park

Most days James the Matchstick Man sits on a concrete bench in Washinton Square Park. In front of him are the tools of his trade – a desk which displays some of his work along with various newpaper and magazine articles about him, a card thanking him for allowing his work to be displayed in a museum of folk art, a box of matches, a small box for donations and a vice clamping in place his current piece. In his hands he holds an exacto-knife and bottle of wood glue. With these tools and memorabilia close at hand, James creates intricate patterns on wooden frames with burnt out matches.

In a slow, methodical voice James explains his story. As the son of a furniture maker/wood worker he was born working with wood. In his early teens he started working with wood and whittling. James only began his innovative work with matchsticks in the mid 70s. Although he enjoyed working with matchsticks, initially “it was nothing major, nothing big. Just something different to do.” His work was merely a jewelry box he made for a friend and he only worked in the medium for a short period of time thereafter. In 1995, though, James began making matchstick boxes in Washington Square Park and enjoyed it so much there’s barely a day that goes by where his unimposing shop isn’t set up in across from the fountain (weather permitting, of course).

Jame’s perseverance stems as much from his love of his craft as from his love of meeting new people and seeing new things. “I mostly just do it because…this is something I love to do.... It’s something worthwhile doing and people enjoy watching me do it and enjoy people watching me do it and I [enjoy] talking to people.” A fan of old movies, James muses over a fitting quote from a George Peppard movie – “’If you stay in one place long enough, the whole world will pass before you’… and that’s how I am.”

James is meticulous in his work, cuts and places each matchstick individually and makes everything from scratch, including the box frames and the designs. A medium sized piece like the one featured here takes between three and four weeks to complete. But while James’ hands are slow and steady throughout his work, his mind is envisioning a new concept or design. Thinking for a moment, James recalls an interview with Keith Richards where Richards noted that he could compose a new song even while performing on stage. “When I heard that, I go, oh wow, I can do that. I can be working on one piece and designing another piece that I have to do in my head.”

If you’re looking to acquire a piece of James’ work unfortunately you’ll have to go see him yourself. When I asked him about how he sells his work he said he works solely by commissions he receives in the park explaining that he’s afraid that if too many people ask him for a piece he won’t be able to keep up with demand. Besides, his message to everyone reading this is:

“Just keep coming by, saying hello and stopping to watch me. I enjoy you stopping by, keep up the good work and I socialize.”

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Like what you see?
There’s not really a way to reach James other than going to the Park. Leave me message at and perhaps we can convince him to open up a little.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Guitar Flamenca and Rhumba: Gimagua

A double header of Gimagua's music

Gimagua playing

Interview with Gimagua

Artist: Gimagua
Medium: Acoustic guitar
Location: Times Square station by the S train

Not that twins have to be the same, but Guillermo and Gabriel share a lot. As young boys both dreamed of having a career in music and of having a group together. What’s more, both fell in love with the same music – Flamenco and Rhumba. The brothers both took up the guitar at the age of 10 and, in 1986, left their home in Cartagena, Columbia to pursue music and a change of scenery in New York City.

Gimagua, which means twins in a Cuban slang derived from an African dialect, is still at it. Guillermo and Gabriel auditioned to be part of the MTA’s Music Under New York program and landed a spot. They say that the subway is an excellent place to promote themselves, generate business, and land gigs. The duo plays parties, weddings and other events. Guillermo also adds he enjoys playing in public (except when it’s too hot or too cold). “I like people, people like us, we get along well.”

Gabriel and Guillermo write their own music and both agree on their inspiration. When queried separately Guillermo said, with a grin, his inspiration included “memories of my land, women, sex.” Gabriel, a bit more modest said “what inspires us is our homeland.”

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Like what you hear? Contact

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Live Appearances In September '07: Pesu, Mecca Bodega, Break of Reality (this post is continuously updated)

Pesu's performance info below video

Every Thursday "Dejavu" @ Mannahatta
Sep 6 (Thu) at 10 PM - Sep 27 (Thu)
316 Bowery (corner of Bleeker St. in L.E.S. Manhattan)

Live Paint:
Yushi aka Pesu(Old-Souls)
Street Ball Freestyle World Championship!!!

September 15th @ SOL - 609 W29th street (bet 11th and 12th Aves) -


Come see the world's best street ball freestylers!!
1. Street Ball Freestyle - best freestyler from all over the world
2. Live DJ - DJ Envy (HOT97)
3. Live Performance - Red Cafe
4. Live Painting - Yushi aka PESU (Old-Souls)
5. Free Foo d.
6. Drinks all night.
7. Celebrity Guest Judges

You will get free give away T-shirts of Street Godz, which T.I wears.

$$$ FREE!!! $$$$


**** RSVP ONLY!!!

Sep 30 (Sun) at 7 PM at Sputnik 262 Taaffe Place , Brooklyn, NY

Yushi aka PESU(Old-Souls)


presented by Yume BKNY

Special guests of celebrities


FREE for Only RSVP!!!
e-mail to:

Mecca Bodega's performance info below the video

Saturday, September 15th
Peacesmiths International Folk Dance/Garden Party
6 Country Place, Freeport, NY
Live music, dancing and food 4-9p.m.
631-798-0778 for tickets

Tuesday, September 18th
Music Under New York - MTA Arts for Transit
14th St./Union Square 6-9p.m.
Wednesday, September 19th
Music Under New York - MTA Arts for Transit
Penn Station 7-9 p.m.
Thursday, September 20th
Music Under New York - MTA Arts for Transit
34th St./6th Ave. 5-8p.m.
Friday, September 21st
Autumn Cafe, Oneonta, NY
Ommegang Beer specials!
244 Main Street
Sets from 10:30p.m.-closing
Saturday, September 22nd
Electric Company
Utica, NY
700 Varick St.
10:30p.m.- closing

Break of Reality's Performance info below video

Monday, October 1st, 2007 - Break of Reality @ Luna Lounge, Brooklyn, NY. 8:30pm show. Tickets $8. Electric/Metal show.

Friday, October 26th, 2007 - Break of Reality @ Northwestern Connecticut Community College, Winsted, CT. 7:30pm acoustic show. FREE and open to public!

Friday, November 2nd, 2007 - Break of Reality @ LaGuardia Performing Arts Center, 31-10 Thomson Avenue, Long Island City, NY, 11101. 8PM show, tickets $15 can be purchased here.

Thursday, November 29th, 2007 - Break of Reality @ Eastman School of Music, Eastman Theater, Rochester, NY. 8PM performance as part of the Eastman PRISM concert, 75th Anniversary of NYSSMA.

Saturday, December 1st, 2007 - Break of Reality @ University of Rochester, Wilson Commons, Rochester, NY. 9PM-11PM performance. Acoustic and Electric performance.

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Friday, August 31, 2007

Electric Guitar: Henry Mac

Henry Mac playing

Henry Mac playing House of the Rising Sun

Interview with Henry Mac

Artist: Henry Mac
Medium: Electric Guitar
Location: 14th Street Station on the uptown ACE platform

Bronxite Henry Mac explains his accidental guitar career. “Somebody gave me the guitar with the impression that I wanted to learn how to play…and I didn’t.” This somebody must have known Henry Mac very well, though, because after about 6 months he just picked it up and started messing around with it. True, he hung it up for about 17 or 18 years but he picked up again and now he’s been in a band and spends his free time playing in the subway. Not only that, but Henry taught himself – buying music theory books, chord books, song books, listening to music and even watched concerts to develop his ear. Now Henry says he just likes playing music, for himself, his family his friends and the public.

Ultimately, though, Henry comes down to the subway to try and make some money. He’s got a lung ailment so he can’t do regular work and what he gets on SSI isn’t really enough to pay the bills. So Henry does what he can to make ends meat, and what he can do is play the guitar – if only so many people were fortunate enough to have such a talent to shore up the rent.

But Henry does like what he does, “when the police ain’t harrasin’ me it’s alright.” Although, he notes, “I don’t mind playing in public but I’m not to crazy about all this noise” pointing to the trains roaring by. Either way, Henry tries to please the crowd, “if I see people feeling it, it’s ok, if they’re not feeling it, I put it back in the bag and try something new.”

Henry has a lot of influences (which you can see listed below) but essentially says “I like whatever I hear, man, whatever I can feed off of.” He cites funk as a particular influence, though. “I try to get funky every now and then…I try to be versatile.”

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Like what you hear? Get in contact

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Guitar, mandolin, tenor ukulele, banjo, triangle, vocals: The Figs

The Figs playing

The Figs playing

The Figs playing

Interview with The Figs

Artists: Caroline Helm (triangle), Gillian Johnson (tenor ukulele), Page (Mandolin), Sarah Gray (guitar), Claire (banjo)
Medium: Triangle, tenor ukulele, mandolin, guitar, banjo
Location: Union Square by the 14th street and University Place train entrance

A little Southern sunshine on an otherwise rainy New York day, The Figs lent their vibrant energy to travelers and chillers taking shelter under a subway gazebo in Union Square. A lively band playing bluegrass/Americana tunes, it was a pleasure to squeeze in among the crowd and get some video of the all girl band.

Despite the skills you hear here, the band is actually composed of a bunch of people who never really studied music and some of whom aren’t even playing on their normal instruments. Page, for example, explains that she’s actually the drummer of the group but, being unable to transport the drum set, is playing the mandolin. Caroline, on the triangle, similarly notes that she’s actually the bass player (although I think the triangle is quite a nice touch). All the Figs agree, however, that few of them even played an instrument or were very good at it Caroline started the band last May.

The Figs started as a jam session Caroline arranged when she got tired of learning the guitar by herself. All of the members of The Figs have friends who are very talented musicians and they started jamming together as a group of less experienced musicians. In fact, each member of the band has a “real” job in addition to the band – Caroline is a social worker; Gillian is a graphic designer; Page, a graduate of Yale, works for the Lafayette City Parks, Sarah is an English school teacher and Claire is an art school teacher. But, as we all know it takes more than study to be good in music, it takes guts; and soon after jamming they took the streets of Lafayette as The Figs.

Gillian, who had been a booking agent for a lot of other bands, got The Figs a string of great gigs from Louisiana to New York. The girls have had a great time playing and consider playing in the streets of New York “kind of getting back to where we started.” However, they note that playing in New York is different because of the diversity of people – “They look at us like they’re crazy…well, they look at us like we’re crazy in Lafayette too, but the people are more homogenous.”

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Like what you hear? contact

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Dulcimer, electric bass guitar, cahone and bells: Mecca Bodega

Mecca Bodega playing

Mecca Bodega playing

Mecca Bodega playing

Interview with Mecca Bodega

Artists: Juba (dulcimer), Marc (tenor cahone), Chikara Kitagawa (bass cahone), Yuichi Fujisawa (electric bass guitar)
Medium: Dulcimer, tenor cahone, bass cahone, bells, shaker, electric bass guitar
Location: 34th Street station

It’s summer these days and it’s hot outside. But no matter how it is, the subways are hotter (this isn’t a pun or an attempt at wit, this is God’s own truth). So, without air conditioning, the straphangers of New York (that’s subway riders for the tourists) sure are lucky to have cool music to fill the platforms (there’s the wit).

This day, the chill sounds of Mecca Bodega provided a respite in the weary commute of the City’s inhabitants. Mecca Bodega is a world folk sort of band started by Juba and Marc. Juba explains that, as long-time percussionists, both he and Marc had gotten tired of taking a back seat to singer/songwriters in other bands and playing the same boring rhythm. Instead, the duo began experimenting with instruments and sounds from places where drums/percussion are in the forefront of the music. That as 12-15 years ago.

These days, Marc and Juba often play with a large band including stand up drums, a drum kit and horns. This day in particular they are playing with two musicians I had met before in Times Square – Chikara and Yuichi. Chikara met Juba through another artist and, upon deciding to jam with Mecca Bodega, brought in Yuichi. The group has been playing together for about a month already and has developed a great spirit of camaraderie. Chikara and Yuichi share their knowledge of Japanese with Marc and Juba while Marc and Juba teach them English. Yuichi explains, “I am a sophisticated, troubled genius” to which Juba adds, “Gan Bai!”

Juba, a Long Islander turned Brooklynite, says he picked up dulcimer when his brother brought it back with him from the South where the instrument is popular as an element of mountain music. Already a drummer, Juba quickly transferred his skills to the new instrument. But Juba’s not just a musician, a lover of all sound, Juba is also a sound engineer and, unrelated-ly, a quilter. Juba explains that he plays in the subway to sell CDs and to “spread the music to people who wouldn’t normally see it.”

Marc explains that he is from earth, the center to be exact, and thus the sweltering heat of the subway is as nothing to him. However, now he lives in Brooklyn. He says he plays “anything I can hit or shake,” including the tenor Cahone, which is in keeping with his musical roots. You see, he got into playing percussion because his mother had pots and pans around. Like Juba, Marc loves sound. I asked him if he was a sound engineer to which he responded “no.” So, I supposed he just plays music, to which he replied “I don’t even know about that.” Marc says he likes to play in the subway because he gets to meet interesting people. Or, as he put it, “I love meeting people like you, that’s why we do it.” He told me this was right before he started grilling me on what exactly I do.

Chikara and Yuicha are two friends who came to the U.S. with one thing in mind – “to play music, music, music.” Chikara and Yuichi are two of street artists I run into the most often, they are always playing. I’ve seen them playing with Mecca Bodega, Floyd Lee and even with random people who they just met. Both are enjoying their time in New York but Chikara admits that playing in the subway is “hard.”

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Like what you hear? Check out

Really like what you hear? Contact or book ‘em (Yuichi and Chikara can be booked individually)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Bucket drums and bongos: Funk Plastic

Short clip of Funk Plastic playing

A full set

Interview with Osiris Stargod and Funk Plastic

Osiris Stargod
A funky-ass name for a funky-ass drummer with one funky-ass groove. But would you believe it, he’s from Missouri, albeit St. Louis. Stargod came to New York to “develop [him]self as a percussionist and see where [he] stand[s] in the world of music and performance.”

Stargod has been a performer all his life, even in grade school. Once he got to high school he made it official by joining the marching band. Although he was cut his Freshman year for, well, being a freshman, he went on to be captain of his high school’s and college’s drumlines up through sophomore year of college. After that, Stargod took off to focus on sharing his gift in a different way - teaching.

Stargod, who is also a spoken word poet and hip-hop artist is uniquely eloquent. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, here are some words straight from the man himself.

Osiris Stargod on…
Being born - “I was born drummin’. I was beatin’ in my mother’s womb, I sent her into labor.”

Teaching - “That’s actually, my greatest gift…I’m the world’s greatest drummer because I make other drummers better than me.”

Performing - “Gigs limit by ability to give my gift and my love for music to everyone. Playing on the street gives me the arena to play for people that may not come to the club, or don’t have money for the club. Street performing is not about not being able to play in the club, it’s about giving you gift out to the world. So someone that’s walking by, that’s had a bad day…they hear some good music and it takes them away for a moment. So I like to play on the street because it gives me the ability to give my gift back to the world.”

Drums - “I don’t play drums, I am the drum. So everywhere I go I drum so I could make sounds everywhere. So, someone heard me drumming on a trashcan that said, ‘Yo, I got some bongos that I know you could make sing…and I’m not doing nothing with them, so here’ that was the universe telling me ‘ok.’”

Music - “That’s the greatest gift, breakin’ peoples’ hearts. Makin’ ‘em come out of their stone.”

Osiris Stargod has been in NY since June 13th. He came after he was found playing on the streets in California and someone presented him with a ticket, gave him $200 and said “Go to New York and play in New York, man. That’s where you need to be…New York is where they’ll let you know if you’re good or you’re not.” And, as Stargod testifies, it’s the truth.

Tide “Funk Plastic” Irving
When I took this video a few weeks ago, Funk had been in New York for 2 days. Initially from Portland, OR, he came to audition for stomp but got axed in the first round. No matter, “There’s certainly been a warm reception out here in regards to street performing.”

From a young age Funk was “indoctrinated into music. My dad’s a pastor, [and] all my siblings are musicians.” The street performing and buckets, however, “came by way of desperation.” High unemployment rate once Bush took office meant restaurants started cutting back on musicians. Funk explains, “I had just picked up some buckets because I was trying to eat…[and] to try and avoid eviction”. After 5 and half years, though, “it’s just become my mainstay and my passion…This [is] my passion…because this is a bigger stage than I’ve ever played on, it’s a universal stage, you know?...We’re sending positive messages out to this environment and that’s what’s crucial about street performers.”

Thus, “[New York] is like a Mecca for me…’cause bucket drummers originated here. In order to validate what I do as a bucket drummer…I had to come to New York for the grand initiation…But much to my surprise I’ve given the New York drummers the grand vaporization…so New York is taking notes.”

To clear up the name, Tide is “Funk Plastic” but when him and Stargod started jamming together they just seemed to merge and they had the instinctive knowledge that they were a group and were both “Funk Plastic.”

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Monday, August 6, 2007

Traditional Jazz w/ Swing Dance - Guitar, trumpet, tuba, accordion, washboard, clarinet, vocals: The Loose Marbles

A full song with all the trimmings

A fast piece

Stunning vocals

Amazing dancing - focus on the feet

Interview with dancer Chance Bushman

Interview with Loose Marble instrumentalists Ben and Rich

Artists: Ben (trumpet), Rich Levenson (washboard), Chance Bushman (male dancer), Jake (not present, guitar), Amy (female dancer), Patrick McPeck (accordion and male vocalist), Mark Tipton (Euphonium, trombone, trumpet), Michael (clarinet)
Medium: trumpet, washboard, accordion, guitar, euphonium, trombone, trumpet, tuba, clarinet, vocals
Location: Washington Square Park near the fountain

It’s a real treat to be walking through Washington Square Park and slowly begin to hear the sweet sounds of the Loose Marbles drifting toward you over the din of the city. Playing in the shade on a hot summer’s day, their traditional jazz and swing can give you a satisfying vacation from the City during a half hour’s lunch break.

The Band
A very large group with a semi-permanent cast, the Loose Marbles designated the trumpeter Ben as their spokesperson. Ben, a New York native from Roosevelt Island and a graduate of the University of Michigan in woodblock performance, explained the story of The Loose Marbles.

The Loose Marbles grew rather organically, starting with Michael and Jake. These two started playing in the park with a few people about three years and last year Ben, upon seeing them, asked if he could join. A few months ago, the group went to New Orleans where they picked up the tuba player and the dancers (more on that below). When they returned to New York Rich Levenson added a new chapter to their history by joining on.

Clearly the band has a penchant for picking up great musicians. Rich states that he had come to New York to study drums at NYU. He got into washboard because his roommate played the banjo and developed a desire to play traditional music. Hoever, Rich didn’t know anyone who played traditional music. So, when he saw Ben and Michael playing in the park he started talking them and when they asked if he would like to join them he didn’t hesitate to jump on board.

Another member of the band comes through his relationship with Ben. Ben’s father, a trumpet player himself and Ben’s inspiration to get into music, often plays with his son and the other Loose Marbles.

The Dancers
Dancer partners Chance and Amy met in California after Amy moved there from Minnesota. They met The Loose Marbles about 4-5 months ago in New Orleans. The group was playing on the street and the two just started dancing. And, as they say, this was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. The dance partners have followed the Marbles to New York and are touring with them in Europe.

Chance has been swing dancing since 1998, he took some classes to get a basic understanding of the structure “but then it’s all about, just, doing it a lot and improvising on that structure…just like the musicians do.” Amy agrees, noting that all their work is essentially improv.

When he’s not dancing Chance also runs The Rhythmic Arts Festival in San Diego – a festival dedicated to jazz and blues. The annual festival is going on its fourth year and has already doubled in size since the first festival. If you’re interested in jazz, blues and swing dance check out his festival’s site -

In General
The Loose Marbles love what they do, especially playing outside. As Ben puts it: “Oh yeah, this is the life…you know it’s a job but it’s a really fun job.” Ben in particular enjoys being outside and being able to play for people who don’t go to bars, like little kids and older folks.

The Loose Marbles also play a lot of gigs.

Like what you see and hear?
Book The Loose Marbles -
Check out Chance’s festival -

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