When I was going to Emerson College in Boston, three days a week I would head out to the Park Street Subways, the metro (Red-Line) by the Boston Common and play my ass off. Of course my day would start before the day even began. 6AM I'd knock the cobwebs from my eyes, put on my hat, gloves and over-coat and head out to the subway with my little rolling battery powered amplifier which I'd hitch up to a suitcase dolly along with my gig bag with mic, stands, cords, the whole package.
Playing for a Subway audience is about being nimble and spontaneous. I mean, you'll be going through a song and getting to the chorus, ready to really nail it and then "TRAIN!" So I'd have to time my performances to about 5-10 minute intervals. When the train showed up, it was time to put down the guitar and collect tips because noone could hear a damn thing. Lol. Actually, if you want to hear one of my songs from my time in Boston, check out "colored houses" below. If you're a red sox fan, I think you'll dig the bridge, got a little homage to "Fenway Pak" too :)
Playing in the Subway helped me figure out my performance. I always get a good laugh, when I hear artists complain about the setting or the "sound" in the room, or they can only play for 30 minutes because their hands are hurting. Excuses like: "Those mics were terrible, that's why we didn't get the audience we wanted." Um. Let me be clear. Guitar coming from a battery powered amplifier and said mic, is NOT ideal for any setting, but I lived for those moments because it helped me hone my craft as a performer. The great thing about playing for a train audience, is you don't need a 3.5-4 hour set. Your audience is constantly rotating with fresh new faces and ears! So, if I had a lousy 30 minutes, no problem, train would come and I'd reset. Begin again. New listeners and same songs, but this time I'd play them better.
That's what I loved about playing down in the subways, I was always learning how to read a room, how to adjust to 5 people vs. 40. Mistakes happened, but so what. Getting a smile from someone at 7AM was a pretty cool achievement. Of course, then I had a few covers I would do, later as I would graduate to playing on Venice Beach next to a Garbage Can (some graduation, huh? Lol.) I'd start playing 95% covers and 5% original. The main difference however was that any cover I'd perform, I'd make it my own. It was always about maintaining my own artistic integrity and making sure I could entertain the audience. This would later evolve into writing custom songs for folks ranging from hats, t-shirts, favorite cats, boyfriends, girlfriends, etc. But it all started on the platform of the Subways entertaining a small crowd of 6 waiting for the train.