The Royal Busking weekend in the Queenstown, Day 2

The worst days sometimes become the best.

Bit of a spoiler eh? It’s a pattern I notice and the hope of it gets me through the shitty times. I don’t even know what exactly brought me so down on this second day in Middle Earth. The last night’s wonder alone should have gotten me through it. Mayhaps the unexpected cold – highs in the teens and lows in single digits – but most likely the steady wearing down of day after day traveling, singing on initially hostile streets, giving and giving and no community to anchor, friends from school at home all but out of contact for months, scrabbling for places to stay last moment, faced with the monstrous obstacle of the expenses to come in Asia…

But still, amongst this splendour I should never feel down. Just the wonder of being there normally would be more than enough. I walked down for a two in the afternoon pitch back on the Queenstown Mall, with the two wharf spots taken by a girl singing Country Roads and a man playing an amplified guitar. Though I seeded my case with gold coins (a tactic from Lily), in that hour earned naught but silver – a dollar total. I’m not sure why I kept going for an hour with the dismissive and annoyed looks, but I did, and my obstinance only hurt myself. When I finished I felt completely worn down. Bare. I ran into Jasper and Rachel on the street, despairing after buying a sim card and top up which didn’t work in my Aussie phone and couldn’t be returned. I’d no idea they locked their sims – I thought the whole point of sims was interchangeability. Twenty five dollars wasted to one dollar earned.

Then I wandered the bars and cafes again, with no luck until the sympathetic Starbucks manager offered me a spot opening for or playing during the breaks that night. Pol & Kate were slated to play but had played often and were amenable to my having a go. I started at seven and played nearly til’ eight. I thought Hoffa would offer me some compensation but no luck. After I finished with a hasty CD plug (and fruitless, it being a Starbucks), he said, “That was really fun, thanks!” Right. But it was. It saved me. The captive audience clapped for each song, covers all. I could see them all clearly from my corner, mostly girls, mouthing along to the lyrics, totally attentive and appreciative with their gazes. A stark contrast from the day’s pitch. For my first few songs one girl in particular stared completely rapt from her boyfriend’s lap. I almost felt like I was doing something wrong. She clapped loud, took my card, requested a song from my list when I passed it down to her, told me “You have a really amazing voice” when she left. My list went round mostly amongst the musicians on the couches nearby (one was the young woman I saw on the wharf). I could feel the vibe for hipster songs amongst non-obnoxious indie music lovers. I love Kiwis for that – spare on the AmeriPop, thick on the local singer songwriters.

Pol and Kate played with a djembe player with the same sort of repertoire. I think seventy five percent of their songs were also on my list. While this made me feel sometimes very… typical, I was able to enjoy them after a time. I felt worried for Kate’s voice as I saw her breathing and belting without any diaphragm at all. They kept going without any indication of needing a break, so eventually I decided to milk my free drink offer for the most expensive and sustaining smoothie on the menu, having been denied food and not having eaten since breakfast. A little later I procured a chai to keep me warm for a new pitch down the wharf.

Right as I began, two passing young men from Jersey (not the New one but the original in England) stopped, intrigued by my sign, and requested I sing them Hello. They recorded a bit of it for their podcast and tipped me twice what I’d earned in total for the rest of the day, absolutely astonished by my voice – “How do you make your voice echo like that?” I suppose I was thoroughly warmed up… Soon thereafter, a Vancouverite stopped to keep me brief company and request Where is My Mind, apologizing for a lack of change and offering me a beer, which I declined. All I wanted then was someone to play for and connect with. He kept my spirits up, let me speak a bit about busking (as he intended to have a go with juggling type things). Paving the way for a wonderful encounter with a large group emerging from the pubs, presumably from Royal Wedding watching. One of the women from this middle aged group stopped her companions excitedly with the promise of my sign, and sang along somewhat spectacularly flat during Country Roads, Stand By Me and other… er.. standbys. They each tipped a bit – one with a note the others congratulated her for (I felt a bit awkward here, were they commending her graciousness as a philanthropist or as a patron of the arts?) and one with a lotto ticket, to the great amusement of the others.

After another dead stretch, another large group stopped by. One girl insisted on Wagon Wheel though I didn’t know it, so I chose a key, played a I V vi IV type progression and sang what I remembered – the chorus. She went wild. I sang a few requests for the others until her clamoring for a reprise necessitated attending to – this time a triple chorus with all singing together. While they did so, my new Vancouverite friend returned with some change he dropped into my now brimming case. Then another group replaced these, a group from Christchurch stopped by a Red Hot Chili Peppers song and enthusiastic enough to request many songs, too. Chris passed once more with the Jersey boys who’d found a pair of girls to escort, they all stopped and admired my takings and then the girls each tipped a gold coin for their requests, talking amongst themselves with “He has a hell of a voice.” “Of course he does why else would he sing out here?” “Just singing there in the bloody cold with no one around, damn it’s hard.” Echoing the earlier comments of the middle aged groups. Appreciation and understanding.

I ran off to the bathroom during a lull. Ran. To the Starbucks, thanking the manager once again for saving my night. My return opened beautifully with a request of Yellow from a girl from Mexico City, Katalina, and her mother. They complimented my accent in Spanish but preferred to speak mostly in English – about half of our conversation in each language. Amusingly for me, when her mother told her to buy my CD she used Spanish in that secret language tone, but of course I could understand. I signed it for her with a note in Spanish. When they left, I played to no audience for a few songs, entirely alone on the wharf as a boat’s horn sounded from the lake to announce it’s imminent docking. A single friendly drunk joined me with a funny commentary on the wedding like a sports recap “Oh, it was one – nil, the prince won.” After some banter I figured out what he meant. Cheeky. He tipped me with his Prince William mask dangling below his neck and sitting on the parapet behind me (I’d chosen the spot framed by the lightpost), greeting one of a fresh largish group of youngsters with “Hey, Senorita.” She responded with a not so amused, “Hello.” but recognized I’d nothing to do with him and proceeded to request songs while he moved on with a smile.

She was (is?) astonishingly attractive, with a midriff baring ruffled shirt beneath a blazer that seemed woefully inadequate for the cold. Her two female friends also didn’t seem appropriately attired – only her male friends were entirely covered. They hailed from Dunedin and on her request of Better Together pronounced “Bittar Tuhgithar” I nearly melted from the cuteness of it. She hushed her friends from talking while I sang No One then stopped me mid song to sing another, and then wanted an original. From Dawn to Busk impressed her, but she’d finally taken note of the absurd chill and they decided to move on. She left me a bus pass with her tip, taking my card and slipping it beneath her shirt. She offered her place in Dunedin (not a ride as they were flying). Unfortunately she never emailed and the connection never grew. Well to now, that is. Damn.


The site of both victory and failure.

Having still not eaten, I finally packed up to get myself another Ferg Burger, where one of the waiting patrons requested I sing him a song for a two dollar tip while we waited. Why not? I thought, and sang him a few. The venison burger tasted sublime, my conversations with the other young people about lovely, and after a few assholes pretended to pull over before speeding off I got a nice ride back to the flat.

Earnings: 98.05 NZD, Lotto Ticket, Bus Card, 4.1 hours
Song of the Day: Wagon Wheel – Old Crow Medicine Show

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