The tunnel musicians of Chicago
January 25, 2010 10:18 AM   Subscribe

The tunnel musicians of Chicago can be heard amid the roar of trains.... I recently spent three nights walking through the tunnels for a closer listen. These are the sounds, and the people I heard.

Links and information about Chicago buskers, including last year's crack down on 'bucket boys.'
posted by shakespeherian (14 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for posting this. Joseph is my favorite Chicago street musician, I get happy whenever I get off the train and hear him singing. He has this amazing seasoned and smoky voice. It's interesting to now know some of his background.
posted by Sreiny at 10:40 AM on January 25, 2010

Heh, one day while I was riding the Blue Line we stopped for an extended period at (I think) Washington, with the doors open, some sort of equipment trouble. There was a guitar player on the platform, just outside my window, going through his repertoire. After a couple of songs I knocked on my window and hollered out the door, "HEY, HOW ABOUT YOU COME IN HERE AND PLAY US A SONG?!".

So he stepped into the car and played "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place":;

"In this dirty old part of the city
Where the sun refuse to shine..."

It was perfect.
posted by Reverend John at 11:00 AM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

I once gave a guy in the subway some money to come to a party I was going to that night and bring his crazy electric blues. I showed up with the Blues Guy and he indeed rocked the room hard for $100 and all the food & beer he could do.

Moral: If you like listening to the blues in the subway, bring it on home once in a while.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:22 AM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

In the late 90's I would take the blue to the red and have to walk through a long tunnel. There was this one dude almost always there in the morning who would be singing a very soulful rendition of Badfinger's "No Matter What." It sounded really cool in the tunnel's reverb. I always think of him when I hear that song.
posted by chillmost at 11:26 AM on January 25, 2010

I work north of the city, so I don't actually ride the El all that often, but without fail, every time I come back from the monthly Chicago meetups, a group of 3-5 buskers (rotating cast, but always the same "group") is singing soul standards with an acoustic guitar at the Grand Red Line stop. Always a nice way to cap off a boozy evening.

Great post. Thanks.
posted by SpiffyRob at 11:30 AM on January 25, 2010

Ah, and after reading the last 1/3rd of the article, it's definitely Joseph and Connection that I'm referring to above.
posted by SpiffyRob at 11:32 AM on January 25, 2010

I used to ride the Red Line home from Monroe each night, and there was a surprising diversity of buskers in the 5 or so years I was there.

My favorite was a guy I saw only once. He was a kid in his early 20s who looked vaguely like Grant Lee Phillips. He played upbeat stuff on his guitar with a bemused smile. I didn't recognize his tune, and as I listened more closely I realized that he was just making it up as he went along - riffing to what he saw on the platform. Commenting on cute girls, lamenting that nobody was paying any attention, talking about the unpredictable train schedule, smelling a fast food hamburger that a passerby was eating and wondering if it was McDonald's or Burger King. The likelihood of success on something like that is very low, but the kid pulled it off well.
posted by AgentRocket at 11:59 AM on January 25, 2010

There is a guy with just a little egg shaker who's regularly at the Monroe stop who has a totally incredible voice. He's often doing a sort of minimal Sittin on the Dock of the Bay that is surprisingly beautiful.
posted by mike_bling at 12:34 PM on January 25, 2010

I see Joseph and the Connection at their Monroe stop performances. I have got in the habit of always having a few extra bucks on me because all these guys really make my day.
posted by readery at 12:44 PM on January 25, 2010

I remember a 20-something guy with a guitar singing an absolutely goosebump-inducing "Across the Universe" on the blue line platform at like, Jackson, I think? Somewhere in the Loop. This was in 2005-06, and his voice had this smooth hollowness that just cut through all of the winter blah. It was awesome.

This post makes me miss Chicago something fierce. Lots of things make me miss Chicago, but yeah, my eyes are misting up a bit thinking about the tunnel music.
posted by wells at 12:46 PM on January 25, 2010

Has anyone encountered "Eye of the Tiger" guy in the Jackson Blue Line stop?

He has a big stuffed tiger that he dresses up. His background music has been "Eye of the Tiger" each time I've seen him. He'll have dialogue with the tiger. Sometimes he'll make the tiger rap or he'll just sing "Eye of the Tiger" and dance around the platform.
posted by bryanzera at 1:47 PM on January 25, 2010

posted by wells

posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 3:15 PM on January 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

one of my favourite street busker blogs is The Saw Lady's(Natalia Paruz). She plays the musical saw in NY subways.
posted by sawdustbear at 4:48 PM on January 25, 2010

Wow, didn't realize there were so many Chicago folks here. I posted a link to this story on my blog this morning, and was delighted to see it also linked here on the Blue.

FYI, the author of the article is Brian Leli, a friend and coworker of mine. If you like his writing style and his photos, you should check out his site and his Flickr page.

Oh, and bryanzera? Perhaps you're talking about this gentleman and his tiger (self-link)?
posted by avoision at 6:22 PM on January 25, 2010

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