There's something about community that changes a person's perspective.
As I often do in the morning on my way to the office, I stopped at The Barista to get my morning white chocolate mocha with a shot of raspberry. It is always good for my soul.
Sometimes (and it's getting to be more regular) I go down to The Barista for lunch, as I did today.Samuel was there.
People around this small town of La Junta, Colorado, all know who Samuel is. Most days you'll find him sitting in the shade just outside the doors of the only locally owned grocery store in town playing his beat-up old guitar and singing his heart out. Guitar case wide open with a sign that says "tips" pasted permanently to the inside. His "setlist" is not short.
Not one to frequent the grocery store, except for when I'm starving, I've never been up close and personal with the guitar player, Samuel. I’ve heard he blew his mind out in the 60s, and isn’t always coherent. People say he drinks like a fish and can’t find his way home. No one seems to know if he has family.
He was wailing away as I sauntered through the door of The Barista today. His cackly, off-key voice singing Harry Chapin's "Taxi" was like sandpaper on my skin. But I kept on sauntering right past him and ordered the Iowan (as in the state of Iowa) Wrap without the tomatoes.
Maybe twenty people tightly around tiny round tables is all The Barista can seat. Sitting down, I wait for my wrap. Loud was Samuel. Watching from under my pulled-down Stetson and from behind dark shades, I couldn't help but listen to the noise.
He played Cat and he played Jones, as in George.And then Samuel looked at me. In a voice, scratchy and rough, genuine and authentic, he said, “Sir, do you have a request?”
Taken a bit off guard, I mumbled something about Crosby, Stills, and Nash, and he launched into “Southern Cross,” as I bit into my Iowan. A kid nearby asked his mom for a dollar and dropped it in the tip case. Samuel beat up the song pretty badly, but someone clapped when he finished. He glanced at me, grinned, and without missing a beat moved right into “Teach Your Children.” People smiled.
I began to tap my foot when he tried to mimic Mick on “Angie,” his voice cracking and never even getting close on the high notes. The bottom of the tip case was covered by now. No one seemed to be paying much attention, but dollar bills seemed to be flowing his way. Samuel sang from the bottom of his heart.
My heart began to tune into “the Spirit” around me. Samuel’s music, so abrasive when I walked in, was becoming a soothing ointment to my soul. It wasn’t just the music, but the community of people caring for their own small-town sidewalk musician. The rhythm and the rhymes of Samuel and the people of La Junta, Colorado were moving within me. I was beginning to feel like I had entered a new dimension. A place outside of time. He was in the middle of “Freebird,” singing badly but sounding so damn good!
I looked around and it was past closing time. Just The Barista staff and Samuel and me. Taking off my dark shades, I pushed my Stetson a little farther back on my head. I stood up and emptied my wallet – 2 twenties and a ten, into his guitar case.
He grabbed my arm and reached down and pulled them out. “No. I don’t need your money.” I nodded, and with lightness filling my soul, I sauntered out of The Barista.
As a former street musician, above and beyond the perpetual day job, I can appreciate the community connection. However, in a land of ipod/iphone adults and similarly self-absorbed teens, the art of street music is rapidly dying. For that matter the appreciation of any live music/performance art is all but gone. I am pleased that you still regard free expression as having some value. M.True