Chris and I were supposed to get together to practice tonight, but it was so nice that I called him at around 5:30 and suggested that if it continued to stay warm that maybe we should go play on Thayer Street. This seemed like a good idea to Chris, so at around seven he came by, I packed up my guitar, and we headed over, setting up right in front of the Brown Bookstore.
While we were setting up and before we even started playing any music a guy who was walking by dropped some change into my guitar case. This seemed to bode well.
After a few songs, an extremely drunk (or stoned or both) guy staggered up to us and tried to engage us in conversation. "Do you want some gum?" he asked. "It's tasty! Sugar-free!" We declined, and after a little while he staggered off again.
Then, a few songs after that, a police officer on a bicycle came by. "Have you been hired to play here?" he asked. No, we said, we're just street musicians. "Do you have a permit?" Well, as a matter of fact ... Chris got out his wallet and showed him the permit he got from the city which gave us permission to play on the street. The policeman took it and read it carefully, stopping at the phrase "at the discretion of the police department," which he read aloud to himself. A faint look of panic crossed his face -- he would have to make a decision!
He told us that a woman who lived in a nearby building had flagged him down and told him to go shut us up. "You should get that saxophone player who plays her sometimes to leave too," he reported she had told him.
Chris said, "I don't want to get into a dispute or anything, and if you want us to leave we will, but I really don't think we're being very loud," and he plucked the strings on his guitar to demonstrate that it was difficult to hear the guitars even from five feet away against the background noise of the street.
The policeman looked uncomfortable. "Why don't you guys play in a nightclub?" he asked.
When Chris and I discussed this later, we agreed that the policeman had, however unwittingly, stepped into dangerous territory with this question, but Chris explained patiently that we did, in fact, play in clubs sometimes, but this was our night for practice and it was nice out, so we had decided we would play on the street.
Finally, the policeman said, "Well, just try to tone it down, OK?" and left. We started to play again. A gentleman walked by and told us, "You guys should rap! Then you'd make lots of money!"
After a short while, the drunk guy returned and decided that we were good people to hang out with. "I know you've been asked this by lots of drunk people, but what inspires you?" he asked Chris. Chris tried to ignore him, but the guy persisted, and finally Chris responded, "Just playing the guitar." "That's it? Playing the guitar? Doesn't that get a little thin? What about love, or friendship ..."
Chris interrupted. "Look, don't get philosophical on me, OK?"
The guy continued to hang out and Chris and I kept playing.
Soon thereafter, a car pulled up in front of us, and a couple of Chris's friends got out; they told us that they had one night a month where they left their husbands and kids at home and went to Providence for a night on the town, and this was one of those nights. Chris chatted with them for a while, and then we sort of interspersed guitar playing and conversation. The drunk guy asked them for hugs but was turned down. A passer-by hollered out, "Get a job!"
After a few minutes, a crowd started to form, I think attracted by the existing group of Chris's friends and the drunk guy. Three women who I assume were college students started hanging out while we tuned up, and a mother and two kids also stopped to see what we would do. We apologized for taking so long to tune and one of the college students said, "Don't worry, we're not going anywhere until we hear you play!" We did a couple of bluegrassy numbers and a Gillian Welch tune; they stayed for a few tunes, put some cash in my guitar case, and left.
More songs. A gentleman stopped and listened to us for a few minutes, then wandered over and put what appeared to be twelve cents in the case and took off.
Finally it was almost nine o'clock and my fingers were cold. We did one last song ("Kindhearted Woman Blues") and said goodbye to Chris's friends, who told us that we had contributed greatly to their girl's night out. (The drunk guy had disappeared at some point earlier when I wasn't watching.) Chris and I then went over to Trinity Brewhouse, where the night's takings (twelve dollars and eight cents) were spent on beer and food. A good night was had by all.