Becoming a Street Performer

Five Steps to Obtaining Street Stardom

Highlights:

  • 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, craigslist.com. 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 YouTube.com 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

Highlights:

  • 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

Highlights:

  • 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

Highlights:

  • 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.

Where the Bluegrass Grows

Acoustic roots make their way to SLO County Thursday night Farmers’ Market

Highlights:

  • BanjerDan- farmers’ market’s banjo player
  • The history of the bluegrass genre
  • Where to purchase bluegrass music

The beauty of the live entertainment at San Luis Obispo (SLO) County Thursday night Farmers’ Market lies within the diversity of the performances. Every Thursday I attend, it seems I stumble upon someone new. On Thursday October 4th, my ears wouldn’t let my body pass by BanjerDan without taking a moment to stop and join the crowd that had formed to enjoy his bluegrass act.

Farmers’ Market’s Banjo Player

BanjerDan, Dan Mazer, originally from Washington, D.C., recently moved to Paso Robles, CA. Mazer has been playing music for thirty-eight years and still loves performing. His upbeat, free-spirited attitude is made know through each effortlessly perfect pluck of his banjo. Don’t let his untamed beard and country appearance fool you though, with a degree from George Washington University in music theory, Mazer also plays the guitar, mandolin and dobro.

Dan Mazer shares his name with the famous British screenwritter, producer and comedian, famous for creating Sacha Baron Cohen’s characters Ali G and Borat.

“I’m a busker, I’m a performer,” says Mazer.

Mazer has spent time traveling with a theatrical group performing The Robber Bridegroom, a musical by Alfred Uhly and Robert Waldman. Mazer has also had the opportunity to live and perform in Nashville, claiming that in Nashville, it’s a guarantee “the guy pumping your gas can play the guitar better than you can no matter how good you are.”

Mazer currently spends his time performing traditional bluegrass music from the 1940’s on his banjo, as well as original pieces, at local venues including famers’ markets and festivals, such as the yearly Harvest Festival in Arroyo Grande. Mazer’s first CD, “Old Stuff”, was released in 2001, according to Mazer’s online profile, which is a compilation of multiple bluegrass artists in which Mazer’s “banjo, mandolin and dobro work appear.”

“It’s old-timer music,” says Danny Kundzinsh, a Bakersfield, CA resident who was in town for SLO County Thursday night Farmers’ Market, describing bluegrass music as the type of music you would find in a black and white Western film set back in the 1800’s.

History of Bluegrass

According to bluegrass-museum.org, bluegrass music actually began in the 1600’s, when different types of music were brought by the many different cultures that were migrating to America. The roots of the genre are considered to be a collaboration of the song and dance from England, Ireland and Scotland, as well as African American blues and gospel music.

Boo Boo Records most popular bluegrass albums are compilations by traditional artists.

Locally, bluegrass music has been gaining popularity. Although the majority of people purchasing blue grass music is of an older demographic, the younger demographic is beginning to understand “what a dynamitic force blue grass music is,” says Mike White, owner of Boo Boo Records in San Luis Obispo, CA, who carries a variety of bluegrass music, from traditional classic artists, such as Earl Scruggs, to mainstream artists, such as Allison Krauss & Union Station, as well as local artists.

BanjerDan is planning on performing at SLO County Thursday night Farmers’ Market once of month. Keep your eyes out for him during the first weeks in November.

One of Mazer’s favorite bluegrass artists is the late Earl Scruggs.

Let There Be Farmers’ Market

How Thursday night San Luis Obispo (SLO) County Farmers’ Market Began

Highlights:

  • The First Farmers’ Markets in San Luis Obispo, CA
  • Why Attendees Love Thursday night SLO County Farmers’ Market
  • Performers: Past and Present

If you find yourself in San Luis Obispo (SLO), CA on a Thursday night, it’s hard to miss the excitement of farmers’ market. Higuera Street, from the corner of Marsh St. to the corner of Osos St., is transformed into a booming metropolis of street vendors from all over the SLO County, filling the air with the smells of barbecue, kettle corn, and homemade candles. As waves of people mingle, waiting to purchase their weekly fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as other handmade goods, the background noise carries a different tune, that of the street performers.

However Thursday night SLO County Farmers’ Market hasn’t always been so entertaining. According to the San Luis Obispo County Farmers’ Market Association (SLOFMA) website, SLO’s first farmers’ market was in July of 1978 with only a dozen farmers and gardening lovers selling their homegrown fruits, vegetables and plants out of their cars or off small tables, in what is now the Stanley Motors parking lot off Broad Street in San Luis Obispo, CA.

It was this farmers’ market, put on by the Economic Opportunities Commission (EOC), paired with the San Luis Obispo Downtown Association’s efforts to boost business, by holding Thursday night activities downtown, which gave birth to the first Thursday night SLO County Farmers’ Market in 1983, that we still know and love today.

“I like the idea of buying local,” says Kyle Dickinson, a 22-year-old kinesiology major senior at California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly SLO) and local San Luis Obispo (SLO) County resident, “living in SLO with so much agriculture in town and around the Central Coast, it just makes more sense to me to purchase fruits and vegetables that have been grown around town rather than shipped from out of the country…it’s nice knowing that the lettuce I’m eating is coming from a family run farm or business in the area.

Along with a great place to locally grocery shop, this love child of entertainment and business has become a stage for many local performers of California’s Central Coast. Bands such as Attila and Dave, a variety of dance acts from belly dancing by Gypsy Moon to Atascadero High School performing tribal dances, and extravagant juggling done by Mark Wilder and Von Jon, who together go by Something Ridiculous, have made Thursday night SLO County Farmers’ Market attendees coming back for more every week.

“He’s [Mark Wilder] improved a lot performing downtown,” says Bryson Bailey, a former Cal Poly SLO student who has been working for the San Luis Obispo Downtown Association for a year and a half, running their information booth.

The San Luis Obispo Downtown Association Staff: Downtown Brown (the association’s mascot), Bryson Bailey to the left of him, and Diana Cotta to the right of him.

Along with Something Ridiculous, another one of his top picks is The Lord of the Cello, who is “bigger than life,” says Bailey. His robust, 6’1 body in platform shoes and medieval body armor, topped of with his extra-long wind-swept blonde locks (thanks to a wind simulator) make him impossible to walk by without stopping for peek, and the roar of his electric cello makes him impossible to stop watching.

“I love the ones [performers] who obey the rules,” says Diana Cotta, San Luis Obispo Downtown Association’s Event Coordinator. Cotta has been working with the association for six years and loves every performer she meets.