Streets of San Francisco: Catch the beat (and brass, and buckets, and accordions) of SF's iconic street musicians -- our exclusive interviews
What street musicians or other musicians do you admire? There's an accordion player that plays down at Civic Center. I think during morning rush hour. He also does magic tricks and wears outfits that match his accordion. He's a longtime busker who I really admire.
What's been your best experience playing? I had a really good experience at the Alemany market recently. A friend of mine was working at the farmers' market. I was busking next to her booth while she danced. People were stopping by and taking notice, so that was really nice. (Brown)
Names: The Haight Street Vagabonds: Peter, Bucky, Crisp and Jack
Where do you play? Fisherman's Wharf, on the sidewalk next to Cold Stone Creamery.
What styles of music do you play? Gypsy music, folk, Russian Folk. We jam. That's like asking what kind of music the Grateful Dead play.
What are your usual instruments? Broken mandolin, harmonica, pots and pans, guitar, hand drums, children's toys, hands, feet.
Why do you play? For fun, to entertain, and to keep our spirits up. I don't want the money — then I feel like I'm whoring myself out to capitalism. I want food, beer, weed, cigarettes, and the best thing — instruments!
When do you play? Everyday. Sometimes the members change. Sometimes people walking by will join for a few minutes, hours or days.
How many years have you been playing on the street? Crisp has been playing for a year, Bucky since he left home four years ago at age 14.
What's your philosophy about music? The best music has never been recorded. The best music is played for family and friends, at night, around a campfire. Or when you're alone. (Amber Schadewald)
Name: Benjamin Barnes
What styles of music do you play? I play guitar and viola, but violin projects better and I know a lot of repertory. I've got maybe 3 hours of Bach memorized. It's a meditative thing. There are six sonatas and six cello suites, and I play the cello suites on viola and violin. They're nice profound pieces and sometimes people will stop and listen. I was playing Bach's Chaconne and this guy stopped and listened to the whole piece and tipped me afterward.
Where are your favorite places to play? The Mission BART stations. The acoustics aren't bad — you get a little reverb like you would in a hall. The first place I played was Powell Street station. It was 1989. I put my can down and basically practiced and made 15 dollars. I packed it all up and went home and threw the money on my bed and laughed. I was working at a coffee shop and putting myself through school.
I had a string quartet (the Rilke String Quartet) and we used to play at Montgomery and Embarcadero. We called it guerrilla musicianship.
What do you like about it, and why do you do it? It's fulfilling to play these great pieces. I've been working on memorizing all these pieces and finding new ways to interpret them.
I was just in NY and saw people busking in Central Park and Greenwich Village. There's a famous violinist, Joshua Bell, who played in the NY subway for a couple hours, and no one recognized him or that he was playing on a Stradivarius. Most people walked by or gave him a dollar, and one kid played air violin. He made 26 dollars.