Were the streets of Chicago quiet during the summer because there were no street performers? Or were there no street performers because the streets were so quiet?
We might want to bring in the chicken and the egg for that discussion.
One thing was for certain: It was a very tough time, indeed, for Chicago’s street musicians who add so much to the flavor and sounds of our usually-busy downtown.
So, how did they get by after being silenced first by the virus and then by the protesting and looting which kept many businesses closed and streets nearly deserted?
Well, variety, they say, is the spice of life, and that is exactly how they made do.
Ronald Christian and “M” (that’s his legal name), have been performing in the city since 1986, an amazing three-and-a-half decade run. The intersection of Randolph Street and Michigan Avenue is their usual spot. They were hit hard by the silenced streets.
“This shutdown was one of the worst I’ve seen,” M said. “We lost maybe 80% of the normal crowd out here. I survived by working my construction job and also, we do play in a bigger band called HarmonE. But even that was slow because so many corporate events were cancelled.”
Christian had a different way of coping with the time off.
“I stayed home and wrote some new music,” he said.
Andrew David stretches his vocal chords out by singing at various spots on Michigan Avenue in Streeterville, and this is his third year doing so.
“It is a gift from God to be able to do this,” he said. “But this summer was rough. Downtown was just about off limits, so I tried the South Loop, Lincoln Park and West Loop and was able to make some money in those locations.”
Derrick Tate, stations himself regularly at the Wrigley Building Plaza on Michigan Avenue and entertains both with his voice and an always trusty saxophone.
“I definitely missed the energy of all the people,” he said. “It was hard to keep up the enthusiasm when so few people were around, but I get by fine because my regular gig is teaching music at Prosser High School.”
Long time street performer and singer extraordinaire Jonathan Howell, often seen at the Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive intersection, may have said it best, “This is what I love to do, so it really hurts not being able to come out and play.”
“I did go to O’Hare Airport and played some and that worked out OK, but mainly I just stayed home and chilled,” Howell added. “I wanted to stay safe and not catch anything bad.”
Like so many others, it has been a tough summer for street performers and the loss of revenue was clearly felt by all. They are a resilient lot and with everything we have been through so far, somehow they were able to continue on and most importantly—keep the music going.