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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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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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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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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Friday, August 3, 2007

Live Appearances: Max ZT/Therisa Barber/Ande Sedwick+Trip

Max ZT's August Line Up Below Videos

Max and Luke playing

Interview with Luke Notary

Thursday, August 2nd ----- 6pm
Grand ave between Lafayette and Clifton(G train to Classon ave)
We will be opening for the great jazz Vocalist Vanessa Rubin!!

Sunday, August 5th ----- 1:30-6pm
The Rubin Museum of Art (17th st and 7th ave)
Another episode of hammered dulcimer at the RMA.
it's an absolutely amazing museum and would recommend it to anyone. come by, listen to some musics and view their amazing exhibitions

Friday, August 10th ----- 8pm
The New Leaf Cafe - Washington Heights, manhattan (A train to 190th)
Sean Nowell (sax)
Edmar Casteneda (columbian harp)
Rich Stein (percussion)

Sunday, August 12th ----- 1:30-6pm
The Rubin Museum of Art (17th st and 7th ave)
The Rubin once again. If you didn't read blurb last time - it's an absolutely amazing museum and would recommend it to anyone. come by, listen to some musics and view their amazing exhibitions

Wednesday, August 15th ----- 10pm-midnight
The Bowery Poetry Club (Bowery and Bleeker)
this is the show to see in August. we have had an amazing time performing at the Bowery and its such a great venue. This show will be dope. A couple of new tunes as well. cheap drinks, great vibe, great people, great musics. nice colors. tones. the whole deal. check out a sample below of our last show.

Saturday, August 18th ----- time TBA
2nd Annual Grand ave Block Party (G train to Classon Ave)
Arts, Crafts, Food, Live bands. it should be a great time.

Wednesday, August 29th ----- 8:30pm
The Tea Lounge --837 union (Q to 7th Ave, 2/3 to Grand Army Plaza, M/R to Union St.)
this will also be a dope dope show. the tea lounge is a chill spot in park slope, brooklyn, where you can just hang, listen to the musics, play some boggle, grab a chai, sit on their couches. its a wonderful spot.

Therisa Barber's Performance Details Below Video

Living Statue

July 30th thru August 5th 2007
441 WEST 26th STREET

Love, Life & Redemption (and everything in between)
is an amazing new story about Carolyn Bowers, a retired Poet, Actress and Mentor whose been chosen to receive a lifetime achievement award. With the help of a talented theater group, she shares her life stories and lessons with 15 poetic, exciting, sexy, controversial stories. If you've ever had a DREAM, this play is for you. You will leave inspired!

Visit or call 212-352-3101 for tickets!!
(tickets also available at the door, cash only)

Monday -Saturday at 8pm. Sunday at 3pm and 8pm (Therisa won't be in the Sunday afternoon show)

Ande and Trip's gig details below video

The text in the video is outdated but the next gig is listed below.

"The Underscore"
Friday, August 10 at 11pm
89th and 1st. Right next to the east side bar, it's the one with the red door.
Good drinks!!

Break of Reality gig info below video

"The Triad"
Saturday, August 25 at 7pm
158 W. 72nd St. New York, NY 10023

$10 Cover, 2 drink minumum, all ages welcome, cash only

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