Becoming a Street Performer

Five Steps to Obtaining Street Stardom


  • Finding the right instrument for you
  • Learning how to play an instrument
  • Where to perform

So, religiously following this blog has inspired you to become a street performer, but you don’t play an instrument? Don’t fret; it’s never too late to learn! I myself have been playing acoustic guitar since 2004, after the curiosity that grew from listening to my mom play late at night lead me to taking Guitar 1 at my high school. Unfortunately, my fear of public performance has hindered my chance at fame, but I have devised a list in hopes that you can someday reach street stardom.

Me, Emma Patterson, at age sixteen playing my first acoustic guitar.

Step One: Pick an Instrument  

Many people say the instrument picks you. Listening to music will help you narrow down what instrument might be your perfect fit. Make a list of all the instruments that intrigue you and go to your local music store to test them out. Leave your wallet at home.

Step Two: Acquire the Instrument

As someone learning how to play, it is never a good idea to buy new. A music store is a great place to test many instruments out in one place, but when it comes down to purchasing, you’re better off buying from a garage sale or my favorite place, Buying a cheap instrument first will take the pressure off of having to be careful with it when you’re learning how to play. It’s like your first car; it will get dinged, scratched and possibly stolen.

Jason Lee Downing bought his accordion at the swap meet.

Step Three: Learn How to Play

  • At Home: Watching videos has become the fastest way to self-teach. Also, there are many applications for computers, tablets and smart phones, which provide users with at-home lessons at their fingertips.
  • Take a Class: Local community colleges offer an array of music classes at an affordable price. You can also seek classes through community education programs in your area. Drew Araujo, a rapper and grocery store manager from Orcutt, CA, was inspired to start writing poetry after he took a class. “There are classes that offer creativity and exploring that creativity,” says Araujo. “The poetry turned into ‘hey I like rap music, so I’ll try and be a rapper and write a verse.’”
  • Private Lessons: Although they can be a pricey, private lessons provide beginners with the individual support needed to succeed. Kim Payne, 2nd year business major at Cal Poly, took private saxophone lessons in Union City, CA for six years.

“The one-on-one contact definitely makes it so much easier to learn it [the instrument] and develop the skills you need to play advanced music,” says Payne.

Step Four: Play With Friends

Making music with your friends is the best way to let your creativity flow. It allows you to show off your new found skills as well as learn more from the people around you. “I do have friends that make music that are going to allow me to take that music and create something with it, to create a song,” says Araujo. Playing with friends give you the opportunity to perfect your art and consolidate your music into songs or pieces, while at the same time getting feedback. Jason Lee Downing, a keyboardist and pizzeria manager from Arroyo Grande, CA, is often inspired to write his own music when collaborating with Araujo.“With Drew I get a lot more [songs] out because those are all original concepts from me,” says Downing, “even though a lot of them are somewhat improve.”

Step Five: Take the Show on the Road

There are many venues with San Luis Obispo County that provide musicians with a platform to share their music. It is free to perform in public areas such as the beaches, piers or parks. Also, local musicians have the opportunity to perform for the public, for a fee of $40, at Thursday night Farmers’ Market on Higuera St. in San Luis Obispo, CA from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m..

Jason Lee Downing: Mesabilly Rock Star

The Birth of a New Music Genre


  • How Jason Lee Downing found his passion for music
  • The “mesabilly” group the Read ’em and Weepers
  • Psychedelic duo Long Hair Short Hair

Jason Lee Downing, a 28-year-old manager at a local pizzeria, Palo Mesa Pizza, from Arroyo Grande,CA, is a truly gifted musician. Currently a member of two local bands, Long Hair Short Hair and the Read ‘em and Weepers, Downing’s passion lies within keyboard based instrument such as the piano, electric keyboard, accordion and melodica, but he enjoys playing the drums and bass guitar as well.

Downing at Palo Mesa Pizza playing the melodica.

Downing’s Musical Start

Downing’s fire for music was lit in his mid-teens. Beginning with the purchase of his first drum set at age fifteen, Downing began teaching himself how to play an array of instruments including the bass guitar at age sixteen and the piano at age eighteen.

Alfie Plaza, a 23-year-old automotive technician and skateboarder from Santa Maria,CA, has seen Downing perform four times. “His passion for it [playing the keys] is really cool,” says Plaza, “he’s really good.”

Downing plays all genres of music, but his forte is music with “roots of funk and country,” says Downing. Downing often finds that it hard to mix the two realms together, describing the style of music he plays with the Read ‘em and Weepers as “mesabilly rock,” a term derived from the geographical local of Downing’s residence which locals call “the mesa,” in Arroyo Grande, CA.

Dylan Andrews, a 27-year-old chef at Tanner Jacks’ Restaurant in Arroyo Grande,CA, has seen Downing perform six times. Andrews coined the term “mesabilly rock” about a year and a half ago.

“You can’t really define what his music is,” says Andrews, “it’s kind of got a country-hillbilly feel to it, but it’s not country and it’s not rock.”

Downing creates unique melodic tones with his piano synthesizer.

The Read ’em and Weepers

Downing has been with the Read ‘em and Weepers since October of 2011. The band consists of three members including Downing. Colin Prins, who plays the guitar and sings, Leni Lenska, who plays bass guitar and also sings, and Downing, who plays the keys. Some of the band’s past concerts include a performance on February 29th of this year at The Z, a club in San Luis Obispo, CA, with the bands The Sumner Brothers and Red Eye Junction, the band of which Reid Cain from the Tarweed Two founded.

Long Hair Short Hair

Downing also plays the keys in the band Long Hair Short Hair. The duo, made up of Downing and Drew Araujo, thought-provoking rapper from Orcutt, CA, takes listeners on a psychedelic experience rather than just providing them with the average musical performance. Downing’s funk rhythms paired with Araujo’s controversial stanzas create an experience that is meant to leave listeners questioning the world around them.

Downing is currently working with the Read ‘em and Weepers to produce a demo CD and is scheduled to perform with the band in San Luis Obispo, CA on December 8th, 2012. The venue is still unknown.

Concerts in the Plaza: The Tarweed Two

Local Country Band Rocks Cal Poly Campus


  • The Tarweed Two
  • Country duet style
  • Cal Poly ASI

The Tarweed Two, a local classic country and bluegrass band, performed at the McPhee University Union (U.U.) at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) on Thursday, November 8th from 11 a.m. until 12 p.m. as part of the Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) concert series, Concerts in the Plaza. Fresh from touring in Oregon, The Tarweed Two’s upbeat bass, energetic rhythms, and duet harmonies of Hayley Thomas and Reid Cain captivated Cal Poly students with a crisp take on traditional country music.

Music Style

With influences like Johnny Cash and June Carter, The Tarweed Two plays original country duets with a 1950’s to 1970’s vibe. “They have a kind of throwback feel, but we definitely try to keep pushing the boundaries of country and pushing it forward,” says lead vocalist Hayley Thomas. “By today’s standards it’s a little bit more fun and that’s not really in the pop culture realm anymore so we kind of bring that back.”

“I really like the heavy bass and the style of music,” says 4th year Cal Poly civil engineering major Cameron Zeller,  “I don’t like country but I really like bluegrass, this is kind of like a weird fusion of the two and I really like it.”

From the left to right: Jamie Mather, Hayley Thomas, Reid Cain, and Blake Frafferty.

Band Members

Made up of four members, The Tarweed Two has been performing together for about a year. Lead vocalist Hayley Thomas is also a member of the bluegrass band Hayburner. Along with making music, Thomas also works for the Paso Robles Press as a journalist and editor of the community page, along with running her own zine, Swap!, about the downtown San Luis Obispo scene. Reid Cain, lead vocalist and acoustic guitarist, is also founder of the country band Red Eye Junction and owner of Dr. Cain’s Comics and Games, located on Marsh St. in downtown San Luis Obispo, CA. Local engineer, Blake Frafferty, plays the electric guitar for the band, and 4th year Cal Poly history major, Jamie Mather, a.k.a. the Wild Cat, plays the bass and is also part of the band Red Skunk, formerly the Red Skunk Jipzee Swing Band.

The Tarweed Two recently toured Oregon and plays to tour again next summer.

“I think that they are really cool,” says 1st year Cal Poly biological sciences major Rebecca Schmidt, “they’re a different kind of style of country that you don’t really hear that often anymore.”

Student Feedback

Schmidt, who loves to go line dancing at the Graduate in San Luis Obispo on Thursday nights, was excited to cut a rug to The Tarweed Two. “It was fun to be able to dance in the U.U.,” says Schmidt, “It’s cool that ASI gets different kinds of bands out here that have different styles of music that everyone can enjoy.”

Be on the Lookout for the Street Stars of Cal Poly

Cal Poly ASI Hosts Bi-monthly Concerts in the Plaza


  • Outside Concerts in the Plaza
  • Marketing to Cal Poly students
  • Comedy Show

Farmers’ market isn’t the only place to find free, live music on Thursdays anymore. Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) of California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly SLO) has started their Concerts in the Plaza series back up, happening bi-monthly on Thursdays from 11 a.m. until 12 p.m. in the University Union (U.U.). Concerts in the Plaza aims to open student’s eyes to a variety of local bands while providing students with a much-needed break from their hectic school schedules.

“I love the events when it all comes together,” says 4th year business marketing major and ASI Outreach Supervisor Sarah McAtee, “seeing all the students excited.”

McAtee holding a poster promoting the next ASI event, the Comedy Central on Campus Tour in the Chumash Auditorium of the University Union on Friday, Nov. 2nd.

Concert Bands

So far two bands have performed for the students of Cal Poly. The Red Skunk Band, a group comprised of San Luis Obispo County musicians playing a mix of jazz and American roots rock, who played on October 4th, and Louder Space, a group of Cal Poly students playing a blend of alternative, funk and reggae rock, who performed on October 11th.  Along with these two local bands, People Under the Stairs, a hip-hop group from Los Angeles, CA, also performed at Sunset Concerts in the Plaza, a branch off of Concerts in the Plaza designed as evening performances for more well-known bands, on Friday, October 12th at 5 p.m..

The new surge for free bands on campus is part of ASI’s attempt to spice things up.

“It’s easy to get in a funk,” says McAtee, “students get bored.”

Virtual Marketing

The Concerts in the Plaza and the Sunset Concerts in the Plaza events are free to anyone who wishes to attended, but are only marketed towards Cal Poly students. The problem lies within hearing about the opportunities ASI is providing for students. The occasional poster for an upcoming event can be found around campus, but in order to receive information about upcoming events, you must “like” the ASI page on Facebook, or sign-up for their email mailing list.

2nd year biological sciences major Jocelyn Tamayo says she attended a Concerts in the Plaza event last spring, but has yet to hear about any this fall.

“They don’t really ask what kind of bands you want,” says Tamayo, “they should get bands like Linkin Park.”

I was ASI’s 1066th “like” on Facebook on October 29th at 3:42p.m., adding to the small percentage of the students who have already “liked” the page considering the news section of Cal Poly website states that “roughly 18,762” students are in attendance at Cal Poly. The fact is; the majority of the student body is out of the loop on ASI events, which the entire student body is paying for. I was unable to locate the exact amount of student dollars that ASI works with each quarter through their website, and the final cost of the People Under the Stairs performance has yet to be calculated according to ASI. According to McAtee, about 1000-1500 people were in attendance at the People Under the Stairs concert, due to a less than two week marketing campaign of purely social media. According to 5th year biological medical engineering major Michael Keenanat, who found out about the concert through a friend that works for ASI the day of the event, there were only 200-300 hundred people in attendance (in front of the stage). Even though he found out late, Keenan was very pleased with the performance.

“Live performances are always better,” says Keenan, “the clarity isn’t lost.”

The next ASI event is the Comedy Central on Campus Tour, this Friday night, Nov. 2nd at 9 p.m. in the Chumash Auditorium where comedians Rory Scovel, Feature Sean Patton and Host Ron Funches will be performing. The event is free to all Cal Poly students and $10 for the public.

Comedy Central on Campus Tour poster in the U.U. by Starbucks.

Poly Canyon’s Courtyard Band- Missing West

In this week’s search of locally performing artists, I stumbled across a band comprised of four California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly SLO) students. Missing West includes; sophomore  industrial engineering major, Clay Young, who plays the mandolin and sings, sophomore physics major, Ryan Morshead, who plays the banjo, guitar and piano, and sophomore English major, Morgan Geiger, who plays the guitar, tambourine and sings. Not seen in the video, but also a member of the band, is sophomore Wes Zimmerman, who plays the drums. The band has only been around since the beginning of the fall 2012 quarter, but their shared love for folk and bluegrass music is sure keep Missing West making music together for years to come.