Curtis Cartier checks in with the musicians on Pacific Avenue for the winter edition of Streetlamp Spotlight.
By Curtis Cartier
When Mūz last checked in with the city's population of downtown street performers it was a balmy October evening, still T-shirt weather for most. Now the days are shorter and the wind colder, but there's still no shortage of guitar strummers, horn blowers and drum pounders who patrol Pacific Avenue keeping music in the air. And each one has a story.
When Stanley Arney plays with the neck of his black acoustic guitar pointed straight ahead of him like a shotgun it may look like showmanship but it's actually a way for him to relax the incessant cramps that plague his hand. The dreadlocked folk artist has many more lines on his face than he has teeth in his mouth, but he's also got good friends, good music and, most recently, a roof over his head. While his friend Suzanne bonks on her bongo and belts out vocals, Arney bounces nimbly around the sidewalk, twanging simple chords with a massive grin and pausing occasionally to tell a vivid story of times when he played on a much bigger stage.
"I can earn my dinner in any big city in the country," he says, glancing around anxiously and tapping his guitar to emphasize certain points. "Yeah, it's cold, but not too cold. At 20-below all men are created equal."
Arney lives in a student co-op, but he says he usually sleeps outside the house in a tent because the youngsters inside get a little too rowdy for an old-timer like himself. Having kicked heroin for what he hopes is the last time, he's playing "true music ... black man's music ... the blues" near the corner of Pacific Avenue and Cathcart Street with a more sober mind and a more promising future.
One Beat to Rule Them All
Peter Lindener has an idea: put a synchronized sound system up and down Pacific Avenue and have a single drummer lay down a beat for all the other street musicians to play by, then watch downtown turn into an acoustic symphony. He says the ideal street musician scene would be modeled after the drum circles of Hippie Hill in Golden Gate Park. "If you could line the street with good musicians it would be an amazing scene; the problem is of course finding musicians who can actually play," Lindener says, while a steady supply of donated food arrives from stuffed patrons exiting the surrounding restaurants. "This is the kind of city where it could work."
Though not homeless, Lindener, a software designer, says that homeless rights are a major reason he plays on the streets and that he's fairly satisfied with what he says Santa Cruz police do in "walking the fine line between doing their job and harassment." While continuing to advance his budding software company, he's also hoping to someday record an album with his mother, who plays piano.
"When I play down here on the street it's never about money," he says. "I play here because it helps me get better and it puts my life back into perspective."
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