I rode up to the Peet’s at Vine and Walnut to buy a pound of coffee early this evening. I got a free cup of coffee and sat at an outside table. A guy with an acoustic guitar, and an open guitar case to receive the offerings of passers-by, had taken up a position on the corner. He played halfway decently. I heard a couple of lines from a song he was singing in sort of a scratchy bass monotone and recognized it as “When You Awake,” an old favorite that The Band recorded in 1969 on a brown-covered album called “The Band.” It’s sort of a winsome remembrance of childhood. Rick Danko sang it in a pure, lonesome tenor that I could instantly hear when I realized what the streetcorner troubadour was playing. I got up, walked over to where he was standing, and dropped a bill into the guitar case. “I love that song,” I said.
Then I went and sat down. He started another song. “Time to Kill.” I got ready to leave, and walked over to him again. “You’re partial to The Band,” I said. “Yeah. Especially that brown album,” he replied. Then he said, “How about this one,” and started playing the song “Stage Fright.” I couldn’t help myself. Having sung that song thousands of times along with the record, I joined in. A couple strolled up the street, and I wondered how much I might resemble one of corner denizens hustling change (I’m convinced that in my well-worn shorts and flannel shirts I look more and more like a panhandler as I get older). Never mind. I kept singing. He took a short cut past my favorite part of the song–“Now when he says that he’s afraid, better take him at his word,/For the price this poor boy has paid, he gets to sing just like a bird”–because he said it was too high for him to sing. We got to the end. I thanked him, and he thanked me. As I walked away, he started into another favorite, a gloomy romantic number called “All La Glory.” I was tempted to try a duet on that, too, but went on my way.
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