Life Imitates Art

The following story comes directly from Brian Austin Whitney and the Just Plain Folks group of performing songwriters and musicians online community, this was in his latest email update and it’s so inspiring, I just had to spread it around.

Life Imitates Art, Dreams Do Come True and Nice Guys Don’t Always Finish Last

Steven Bacon and Glen Hansard: An Inspirational Tale

As some of you already know, I (Steven Bacon) make my living as a subway performer / street performer.

A recent independently produced movie has given me great inspiration and the much needed strength to keep on keeping on…. The movie is called “ONCE” and stars Irish singer songwriter Glen Hansard (lead singer of “The Frames”), as a down and out street performer, with big dreams (sound familiar?). Glen costars with songwriter Marketa Irglova who plays the nontraditional love interest with hopes and dreams of her own.

One of the many amazing things about this movie is that the stars, Glen and Marketa, wrote and performed all the music in the movie. Although this movie only had a budget of $150,000, Glen and Marketa went on to win an Oscar for best song in a movie (for Falling Slowly), and a Grammy as well (all in 2008)

So how do I fit in with all this? Well, when I heard they were coming to town (Boston, Agannis Areana, 9-19-08), I bought tickets and when the day of the concert came (last Friday) I set up my street performing gear outside of the arena and proceeded to play all day in hopes of meeting Glen and Marketa.

After about 3 hours of playing I met a kindred spirit named Peter Olson. He had met Glen at a previous show and wished me well with my adventure. Soon after, the arena security staff politely kicked me off the premises, since it’s against policy to have street performers on BU property. They were cool and said “we don’t care if we hear you, it’s just the policy of where you are… why don’t you go across the street and no one will bother you”. I gotta say that’s the most pleasant getting kicked out experience i’ve had to date! I was thinking about just packing up and leaving, but I decided to keep soldiering on, so I found a condemned shop with garbage bags covering the windows and set up outside of there, thinking I would be safe for a few hours here.

About 10 minutes later, I’m singing and playing with my eyes closed and when I open them I see Glen and Marketa Standing in front of me with big smiles and kind eyes. Glen throws me a tip, we talk about busking, I blabber incoherently about how much of an inspiration he is to me and tell him I have tickets to the show. Glen and I shake hands and he asks if I’ll have all my gear inside the show and then says, “We’ll see you inside!”, and I say “I’ll see you inside, but you probably won’t see me!” and we both laugh. It turns out that Peter Olson, who I had just met in the previous hour, ran into Glen and Marketa and sent them my direction. Peter also followed them and took pictures with his iphone of our encounter. Afterwards Peter said if I hadn’t moved (aka gotten kicked out), Glen and Marketa probably wouldn’t have found me.

So I play for a few more hours, and I’m on cloud 9… (it’s now been 5 or 6 hours of busking….can’t feel hands, gotta pee, losing my voice, … all the usual stuff..). Finally it’s time to see Glen and Marketa perform so, my wife and I head off to see the show.

My wife is pretty concerned they won’t let me in with all my gear because she went and checked while I was playing and saw the list of non-allowed items, and I had about half of them (like large bags, metal poles aka my mic stand etc…). I have a feeling they’ll let us in so off we go to find out.

When we get to the entrance, the security guard gives me what I think is a “great, another one of these guys” looks. Instead of showing me the door, he pauses and says…. “Oh hey, are you the guy who’s been playing outside?…. is that a Martin guitar you were playing? I play one too… you sound great! Yeah… this guy is alright, let him in.” So, no problem getting in and I’ve got a new friend to boot.

We finally manage to get to our seats in the dark, no small feat with all my gear, and we enjoy Patty Griffin’s opening set.

Next, Glen and Marketa come on with Glen’s band the Frames. They are astounding, amazing, mind blowing, beautiful, inspiring, original, soulful, full of depth and raw talent. They play some of their big hits (including Falling Slowly) and then everyone leaves the stage except for Glen. He plays a solo song and then says: “So, we were walking around Boston today and we met this busker. He was fantastic… I think his name was Steven…. now everyone please be quiet for a second…. Steven are you here?”

Yeah.. I’m here!… I stand up and lift my guitar high over my head like an Olympic weight lifter (caught up in the moment, I was…). The crowd begins to cheer and Glen says… “LET”S HAVE A REAL BUSKER UP ON THE STAGE! STEVEN COME UP AND SING US A SONG!”

I think this was the point were I my heart stopped beating and I began to choke on my giant pretzel…

So, the crowd keeps cheering and I run up to the stage. I make eye contact with about a zillion people on the way who are as caught up in the moment as I am. The guards let me on stage… and there’s Glen to great me with a warm smile. I hug Glen and the crowd cheers. Glen says “Hey, do you want to use my guitar, it’s already plugged in…” Side note, this is the guitar Glen played in the movie, and it’s famous…. I dream about that guitar… Do I want to play it? Yeah, I want to play it! I want to marry it and raise saplings together… I want to fight crime with it… I want to take it to the zoo, take it to the movies, knit sweaters for it , paint it’s picture, and celebrate Arbor Day with it…..(ok i’ll stop there). Of course Glen knows how exciting playing his guitar would be for me, and it’s another kind and thoughtful gesture on his part.

After fumbling through my guitar case to find my Harmonica and capo, I approach the mic, and the crowd is going wild. In a fog akin to deer in the headlights syndrome I say something, to the crowd, probably something I would regret if I could remember what it was…. I do remember saying… “ok I’ll stop talking and make this quick… you guys didn’t pay to see me.” That went over well. Hmmm… maybe a little too well. But seriously folks…

As I struggle to get my heart rate back under 300 bpm, I play the opening chords of my song “Charlie wants to run”…. Charlie is a metaphorical reference to the subway in Boston, aka the Charlie train. I play the intro with guitar and harmonica. I think after I played the progression through the first time I got big cheers, maybe because people were happy after all the buildup of this moment that I didn’t totally suck. I sing the first note and realize… uh-oh my voice is gone from my 6 hours of busking in the cold today… still can’t feel my hands… DANGER WILL ROBINSON, DANGER!.. then i get a hold of myself and start to relax and take in the moment. I notice that everyone is clapping to the beat. I realize how to connect with the audience halfway through my song and I start to make eye contact one by one with everyone who is close enough for me to see. Each person I look at seems to get that I’m looking at them and we smile at each other, having meaningful and happy, albeit brief, exchanges. I can see how inspired they are by this moment and how excited they are for me. I’ve never felt more love and support in a performance setting in my life. I know that feeling will stay with me always.

At this point I realize I’ve gotten lost in the crowd and my song structure has flown south for the winter. I realize I’ve sang the chorus 3 or more times in a row …. time to stop! I somehow manage to end the tune as thousands of Swell Season fans rise to their feet to give me a standing ovation. Glen runs up to me and gives me a big hug and says to the audience “That was F—ing Great!”

On the way off stage I get to thank each member of the Frames and Marketa. Big giant security guard gives me a hug. Everybody wants to shake my hand as I wander, lost-dazed and confused, trying to find my seat, and process what I’m pretty sure has just happened.

Afterward, I signed autographs for the first time in my life and set up my gear outside the Arena and played outside until 2am… this time I didn’t even notice the cold.. I stopped when my amp died in a horrible barking way that only busker’s amps can die.. I think I might have fried it, but perhaps I can fix it. If you see me busking in Park Street or Davis station Wednesday afternoon then you’ll know the amp made it through another round of meatball surgery.

If you would like to be involved in the upcoming chapters of this story, please help me make the most of this big break by forwarding this email to your friends, your press contacts (Newspaper, Magazine, TV, Radio, the Web), anyone you know who you think might be interested in booking me at their venue or house concert, any songwriter agents, recording industry types, …etc!!! I have never asked anything of the sort in the past, but I believe this story can inspire others to go for their dreams and I am excited to share it and see how it all plays out.

There are pics of the event at You can also hear the actual audio of Steven’s magical opportunity.

If you’d like to discuss this with fellow JPF members and Steven, here’s a link to a discussion on the JPF message board:

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