What street performing in D.C. taught me about pursuing your passions

The importance of getting out of your comfort zone and inspiring others to do the same

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Erik Toor is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. 

Riley Walsh | Cavalier Daily

“You know you don’t have to do this,” my mom said, rolling her eyes. 

I laughed. “Yeah, I know.” 

I picked up my stuff, said my farewell and strolled off towards the metro. 

Purchasing a ticket at the front of the metro, I was greeted by a metro employee. 

“I hear they’re thinking of creating a lot stricter regulation on those things, and you could get a ticket,” she said. “Just looking out for you.”

I responded with a smile. “Man, that would be a shame,” I said. “Fingers crossed they don’t.” 

Probably thinking that our conversation would devolve into an argument if she disagreed, the straight-faced metro worker nodded and walked away. 

After 13 metro stops, I arrived in D.C. and prepared to play the National Mall.  As my 30-watt Line 6 Spider amplifier hopped up and down with the beats being sent from my violin through my looping pedal, I smiled at the occasional passersby and the growing crowd. The end of my first song was met by some clapping. As I bent down to change a setting on my amp, I raised my hands up in thanks and dove into my next song.

For me, street performing in D.C. is kind of like that girl from high school that you tell your friends you are completely over when you aren’t actually. Even after busking throughout high school and spending two to three hours most weekends in metro stations, outside of stadiums or on the National Mall, I just haven’t gotten sick of it. I think it’s absolutely wild that someone can go out in public and just blast their music and have a good time.

As the crowd grew, I instinctually started overstressing my body motions and saw two girls in the corner of my eye snapping a picture of me. With the Washington Monument as my backdrop, I felt like a statue of sorts. Now in my mind I was like all of the other statues they saw today — snapped into an 800 kilobyte frame on their camera roll for posterity, sandwiched between the Washington Monument and the Capitol.

However, this was a highlight reel moment. Most of the time I’m lucky if the air and the trees even show up for my playing. As people’s attention wavered and flickered off, I was alone again. It kind of felt like I was a contestant on “Survivor” — braving the urban wilderness of an intermittently deserted city.

Being alone in the city with no audience is one of my favorite parts of street performing. Any performer would know that to be a busker you have to start your own fire. Although I think you really do make a positive impact busking, no one is begging you to be out there, and recent regulation has made busking more and more stigmatized. I’ve had many a run in with the metro police for busking in locations that aren’t “legal,” and even with a sound permit, things aren’t cut and dry. So to be out there, putting yourself out for the world to judge you, you have to be doing it because you love it — not to make a buck or two.

I’m sure for every person who stops and listens to my music, there are another two walking by who have to push in their headphones to be able to hear Drake over me — but that’s okay. I’m really not there to make a scene, but rather to do something that I like to do. And although your mom and that lady at the metro might not understand what you are trying to do either, you should still try. Like a snowball rolling down a hill, I believe getting out of your comfort zone will perpetuate more people doing the same. Someone just has to get the ball rolling. 

I again started overstressing my body motions and lengthening my bow strokes. A lady in her mid-40s and her child stopped to watch. I finished my song, the lady clapped, and her kid walked right up to me and stopped. He looked at his smiling mom and then back at me and then at his mom. Curiosity defeated precaution, and he shouted, “Can I try?”

Erik Toor is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com.

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