The first time I played a guitar in a public place, I was about 16 years old.
I remember taking my Epiphone acoustic to a local park next to a small lake just to see what kind of reaction I would have if I played fairly simple guitar songs for random strangers.
Nothing incredible happened. I didn't get any money from anyone. In fact, no one really even noticed me for the most part.
Then life happened. I graduated high school, went on to college, got my degree and got a job in professional sales. Playing music in public took a back seat to board meetings, sales quotas, product presentations and closing the deal. At the time I thought that I was doing what I *should* be doing - earning lots of money, spending it on shiny things and ignoring this nagging voice in the back of my head that was telling me that I should be back at that park, making music.
So, my bank and retirement accounts grew while my passion for playing guitar sat idle. This went on for about 10 years.
Then in 2008, I packed up all my things and moved from Atlanta to Denver. I had had enough of the south and I needed a change, and I figured Colorado was as good a place as any for a fresh start. Little did I know that upon arriving, I would rediscover the joy of public performance, in a very real - however unexpected - way.
I suffer from clinical depression and during a particularly severe bout of it, I tore myself away from my one bedroom apartment, went into town and sat under a bridge, playing blues music on my electric guitar through a tiny, battery-powered amplifier. I remember closing my eyes and weeping as I played, letting my emotions spill out onto the fretboard. It was a genuinely cathartic experience.
I opened my eyes and what I saw dumbfounded me.
There was money. Money everywhere.
Singles, fives, and even a few tens. People were just dropping money all around me and I didn't even know it. It's at that moment when I realized I had discovered something truly magical.
Ever since that fateful day, I have been playing blues and jazz-inspired guitar music on the street at least a few hours every week. This hobby turned into a full-time profession when, in February of 2015, I quit my salaried sales job to go on tour, playing my music in cities all across America.
This was a fairly risky venture. Sure, I had saved enough money to keep me fed and clothed, but to drive solo around the country with no real plan but to play music for strangers isn't the most calculated, conservative way to go about accomplishing a goal. But I didn't care. I was going to do it, and I did.
My travels took me from Denver south to New Mexico, through Arizona, into Southern California and all the way up the western coast. I played guitar in a graveyard, in a cave (talk about killer acoustics!), at the beach, and in some of the most unexpected places you can think of. I collected so many incredible memories that it would be impossible to account for all of them here on this post. I will share with you just a few anecdotes here, but if you want the full story you'll have to wait until I publish my book about all this, which is forthcoming.
Monterrey, CA - I set up and played at a beach in this beautiful town, and as I was setting up a man approached me with his wife, and asked me what I was getting ready to do. I responded, "Well, I was going to play some music here," to which he replied, "Sounds good to me, let's hear it!" And so I began. About 20 minutes into my set, he stopped me and formally introduced himself. This guy was part of Herbie Hancock's band back in the 60's, and his percussion work is on more than one of HH's platinum-selling records from that era. I was stunned. I had just played music for a jazz legend and I didn't even know it.
Portland, OR - I picked a spot to play at a park in Portland. The rain seemed to have let up just for me, or so it seemed. I was feeling particularly romantic at the time, so I decided to play a tune very commonly heard at weddings: Pachelbel's Canon in D Major. Just as I was getting into my second or third trip through the chord progression, I look up to see a full bridal party walking straight toward me. I am not kidding...literally seconds after I started playing this song, a bride, her groom and all of the groomsmen/bridesmaids just SHOWED UP seemingly out of nowhere. I was totally gobsmacked, and so of course I just kept playing. After I was done, the groom came over and asked me if his wife had hired me. I told him no, and he refused to believe me. This is probably the most bizarre memory I have from the trip, and I still can't believe the timing.
I could go on here with at least another dozen or so stories about things that happened to me on the road. While it was an incredible experience, it did have to come to an end. And that end was in Seattle, where I did a capstone performance at Pikes Place market, to a huge crowd that paid me well over $500 in just over 4 hours time. It was an fantastic way to round out a glorious journey.
After defaulting back to Denver and still reeling from what I had just done, I knew that I had to settle back into the life I left. So, I began a job search and re-entered the workforce a few months later. Now, I'm back in the sales game with another full-time, salaried job, but things are different now. They're different because, in those few months I spent doing what I love, I learned more about life and love for music than I ever did in my prior 35 years on this planet. I learned about human connection, about serendipity and about courage.
In those short months, I put my soul on a platter for the entire western half of the US to see and I became a better human being for it.
I'd recommend it anyone.
To hear some of Bret's work and to see what else he's up to, be sure to check out these links!