Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Music Seen: Street musicians at First Friday Art Walk, Portland, August 6

Published in  the Portland Phoenix

With the Tower/Building of Song on hiatus while its creators move apartments (again), the street-music scene on First Friday was quieter than in recent months. But that left more aural room for buskers along Congress Street.

In a two-hour gallery-browsing stroll from Monument Square to Longfellow Square and back, we heard nine musical performances (two other people looked like they might be about to start playing, but didn't in the time we lingered in anticipation).

A traditional Americana fiddler outside the Maine College of Art got us going with a toe-tapping rhythm and a little shuffle of his feet. But something echoing down the street caught our ear, and it turned out to be a man smoothly playing soulful jazz on his saxophone very nearby — just outside SPACE Gallery.

Two guitar players were next, a female singer-songwriter with some original tunes outside Two Point Gallery and a man strumming Spanish-tinged airs on a classical guitar outside the Empire.

Outside the Green Hand Bookshop were three women merrily fingering their accordions, giving our turn to head back toward the Monument a little extra jaunt. At least until we encountered a young man with a synthesizer outside Strange Maine. He was working the electronica-plus-drum-machine end of his small keyboard, extracting haunting, ethereal sounds that in some cases seemed to surprise even their creator. (His abstraction meshed startlingly well with the classical guitar across the street. Perhaps there's a collaboration option there?)

Down by LL Bean, a man was playing two different-sized recorders simultaneously, fairly capably handling a pair of two-handed instruments without help. And then he switched to saxophone, with a big-band sound.

Next on our way was a woman strumming on a banjo and doing vocals that are best described as shouting. She was outside MECA (the fiddler had moved on), and her friends were whooping it up around her, possibly having too much fun than could be reliably ascribed to their muse of the moment.

Finally, as we left the Art Walk to go in search of sustenance, a lonely Cranky the Clown School Dropout was mournfully tending to his saxophone, sitting beneath the gaze of Portland, To Her Sons Who Died For The Union.