Posted by Michael Andersen (Contributor) on February 10th, 2015 at 2:44 pm
This post is part of our SW Portland Week.
Part of the reason you don’t expect to encounter Bobby Tower and Michael Black at the bus stop outside the Burlingame Fred Meyer is that you basically can’t hear them until you’re within a couple yards of them.
Even midday, their music is almost completely drowned out by the constant roar of traffic on Southwest Barbur Boulevard and, about a block away, the gully of Interstate 5.
But Black said that though the duo sometimes performs downtown, they prefer the sidewalk next to the bus stop because they’re more likely to attract attention, and because people are less likely to tell them what to play.
“People are kind of willing to stop and listen,” Black said. “There’s not a lot of gathering places in the urban environment, you know. The market is, like, one of the only places left.”
Black, 22, plays ukulele and sings; Tower, 33, plays violin. I’ve definitely heard worse.
The pair use a performance space nearby, said Black, who was born in Portland but graduated from high school in Hawaii and has lived in Texas, Seattle and elsewhere. He moved back three years ago and has graduated from Concordia University in Northeast Portland.
Tower also came to Portland three years ago, in his case to study music at Portland Community College. He’s about to finish an associate’s degree and plans to transfer to Portland State University or elsewhere.
Neither owns a car, and both get around mostly by bus, MAX and foot.
“I used to bike a lot,” said Black. Then he moved away from the Concordia area and into the downtown area. At that point, Black said, thieves started taking parts off his bike — even seemingly worthless things like the chain.
“Street music really makes you feel like you’re part of the life of the city.”
— Michael Black, 22
“It was like, you’re taking my whole bike apart,” Black said. “I’d rather walk and know, like, my stuff is safe with me, rather than walking back to my bike and being like, ‘Oh God.'”
Then Black gestured to the divided road in front of him, Barbur Boulevard. At this point it’s striped with white bike lanes, four travel lanes and turn lanes.
“And I’d like to see dedicated bike lanes,” he said. “This feels dangerous at times. … I’ve actually heard people say this is one of the worse roads.”
I asked what he meant by a dedicated bike lane, since there were already striped lanes there.
“Maybe more of a bike path I guess,” he said. “I just notice that there’s a lot of space. … I don’t have enough expertise to know for sure, but I’d say that it would make me feel better.”
But however they get around, both seemed to enjoy their work.
“Street music really makes you feel like you’re part of the life of the city,” Black said, smiling. “It’s really a breath of fresh air. Even though we’re surrounded by all these cars and smog and everything.”
We’ll be here in Southwest all week! And join us Friday afternoon for a BikePortland Get Together and social hour at the Lucky Labrador Public House in Multnomah Village (7675 SW Capitol Hwy) from 4:00 – 6:30pm.