Musicians play for spare change and love of performing
It's 9 p.m. on Fourth Avenue when Gene Boyer hits the blues on the harmonica.
Eight months ago, Boyer met Luis Weiss at the Buffet, a bar five streets over. Five months later, they started to play music together seven days a week, until 1 or 2 a.m.
"We do it because we love to play; it's entertaining and fun. We have a great time," Weiss said, with Boyer standing by. "We do a lot of karaoke to get new ideas, but our favorite song is 'Papa was a Rolling Stone' by the Temptations."
The guys camp out in central Tucson, a fact they share proudly.
"It's great. We get to do barbecue almost every night, and our spot is hidden so nobody knows it's there," Weiss said.
Two hundred feet down the sidewalk, Mike Trego makes people pause in their conversations as they pass by. Flamenco rhythms and original songs are a rarity among street musicians on Fourth Avenue, but Trego is committed to his music and doesn't care about the little money he makes.
After being in a motorcycle accident at 18, he couldn't get back to the athletic life he led before and started making music.
"It's a gift, you know?" said Trego. "The physical gift got taken from me and instead I got the musical gift. And it's been a lot of fun. I've met a lot of people."
UA students however, don't always stop to notice street musicians.
"Most of the time they're not that talented and I don't bother much about them. You can just keep walking," said Eric Gitenstein, a physiological science junior.
Trego has different part-time jobs during the day. He remodels everything from cars to houses and has property to maintain.
"I haven't learned anything in particular, I just picked it up," he says. "I haven't had a regular job for a long time because I like to be able to create my own schedule. I work when I need the money."
Tom Fitzgerald joined Trego some time ago. Back in school he had already played in a band. When he came to Tucson and saw street musicians on Fourth Avenue, he decided to join them.
"I was playing and then Tom came by and decided to play with me for a little while," said Trego. "And then he would come every Saturday."
Fitzgerald worked at a big supermarket chain for 13 years but was fired a couple months ago. Now he struggles to make enough money to pay the bills.
"It is hard," he says, "I write applications and I call them, and I'm really trying hard to find a job. Right now I'm just doing construction work on some days, but it's not enough."
The money they make on the street is nothing more than tips, and it has become less in the last months. They used to make $20 to $30 a night. Now it's $10 to $20, which they have to share.
"You have to be very good in order to make money," Fitzgerald said. "If people think you're not good, they'll tell you. But it is a venue for unknown musicians to gather and have a good time. Even if I had a good job right now, I would still go out and play because I like it."
Trego said that reactions to his playing are normally positive. Sometimes people are drunk and make inappropriate comments, but that happens rarely. Most of the time they just walk by.
"Some of them are talented, but the majority are just bums I think," said Liz Myers, a general biology senior. "I have given them some money, just the change I had in my pocket. But I never hung out and really listened to them."
It's almost always lively at the spots where the men play their instruments. People stop by to talk and to listen. There's a buzzing atmosphere under the streetlights, where creativity exists for different reasons.
"I just want to make music and share. Share the music. People ask me how I do it, and I stop and I play things really slow for them and I show them," Trego said. "I make them sit down and take the guitar. It's fun, you know?"
Whether it's just the fun they play for, the will to share good experiences with other people, or a job to make some money, Tucson's street musicians add some life to the street.