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Here is the Story about How I Started Playing in Lithia Park....

It is the beginning of 2015 as I write this and too cold to be playing my cello in Lithia Park, here in Ashland, where I am fortunate to have a home....but I wanted to share a little bit with you about the scene there for all of those who may be visting Ashland, and those who live in the area who have not taken part in the magic that has developed. 

I started playing in Lithia Park in the summer of 2008, right after I recieved a grace-filled gift of my cello, Flare. I was going to the Park to enjoy the afternoon with my son, Gabe, and he asked if I would play the new cello there. I sat on the stone wall that runs by a little meadow in the Park, before you get to the playground. After a half an hour, Gabe said, " Dad, look what is in your case!". I had left me case open, not because I had any idea that people would put money in it, just left it open. And there was quite a bit of cash in there. This was not long after I had made a commitment to myself to make my living playing my music, so here was a sign from the universe ( as they say - everyone has a different opinion about who these things are a sign from...) that this might be a way of recieving some support for my music.

From that point on, I experimented with where in the Park would be best to play, and when would be the best time. That summer it was sporadic. It was hard for me to believe I could actually make a living from tips people would put in my case. But in the Spring of 2009, I was ready to go out every day and play. That season, the weather was quite good. I recorded my first CD in the Spring, mostly from improvisations I was doing in the Park every day. There was something magical about it from the beginning. The spot that I found worked best is a little beyond the first duck pond, in front of a little stand of trees, with the creek behind me, facing a couple of benches where people can sit and listen, with a meadowin front of me, where folks would often bring a blanket and a picnic. 

During that Spring and Summer, there were all kinds of experiences. People were obviously moved by the music. It was clear it was some kind of extraordinary moment for many, coming upon the music of the cello in such a random way. I sold my CDs, because I did not know any better. For most of the summer, the Park Police looked the other way. Later in the season, because another musician who was playing in the square and selling CDs was recieving a citation, this musician asked, " what about the cello player in the Park?". So within a couple of days I received a citation for selling CDs in the Park. There is an ordinance prohibiting this.

This was a challenge for me, because with the sale of CDs, the money I received from playing was quite workable in terms of a sustaining income. Without it, not as easy. The season ended that Fall with the whole idea of playing in the Park up in the air.

In 2010, after all attempts to get a special permit to sell my CDs in the Park had failed, I returned to playing in the Spring, with lots of obstacles from the weather this time. There was rain all the way into the summer. The tips were still good, but there seemed to be some competition for the spot, and none of the other spots worked as well.

That was all troubling, but when I played, it continued to be just beauteous. There were so many friends I made along the way. A dad with his little boy were regulars. Actually, many moms and kids and dads and their kids. People spontaneously dancing. People spontaneously kissing. Visitors from out of town coming back day after day during their stay. People spontaneously painting or drawing and giving me the sketches. In my case I have received not only money, but bags of spinach, cookies ( some magic), little drawings, jewelry, notes from women who aren't massage therapists offering massage. Just a lot of love vibes is what it has all been. Very, very rich.

It was in 2010 in the fall that I went on the road and started doing house concerts around the country. That is a whole other story. But when I returned this year in 2014, in February, I came back to the Park as soon as I could. At that time I was playing with a laptop that had my backup tracks on it. This created a gorgeous sound and people loved it. One day early on I was discouraged and said a little prayer, " God, if I am supposed to be doing this, I need some kind of affirmation from You." That afternoon a college choir showed up on their field trip from Eugene and ended up gathering on the benches and stone wall in front of me and joined me in singing Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" as I played. I was blown away, of course, but even more so as each young person came up to me afterwards, shook my hand, and encouraged me to keep playing. These kinds of things seemed to happen amazingly, graciously, when it was most needed. 

After Easter, when there was a huge gathering around me in the afternoon, I was given a warning about using the small amplifier and back up tracks that I was using to play my original compositions and other popular songs. After a lot of research, I learned that the only ordinance that regulates street musicians in Ashland is one that says if your instrument makes a sound that carries more than 50 feet, you are violating the law. of course almost any instrument will do this. There is no actual ordinance regarding amplification, other than one that refers to "loud, raucous noise" which even the police department agreed did not apply to my situation. I also learned that this " 50 foot" ordinance is selectively enforced. Buskers on the main street, even when making music that carries more than 50 feet are allowed to continue. But it was made clear to me by the authorities in the Park that if I used the backup tracks, even if it was no more sound projection than many musicians playing in the Square, I would be cited.

Even though there was a drop in the numbers of people gathering without the backup tracks, the tips were still good. The Park is the main reason I can survive as a  musician in Ashland. Most people - locals and tourists - don't realize that as artsy and progressive as Ashland appears, there are very few musicians actually making a living from playing music in the Valley. In other cities, there are permits provided for street musicians to play in public without being hassled, and even providing for the possibility for selling their CDs. This works well both for tourists and for the local musicians.

As a composer and performer, I can tell you that playing in Lithia Park has been a primal, joyful experience for me - to share what I do for so many people in such a blessed, informal, relaxed setting is a treasure. I hope to become more familiar with how to make this situation more secure in Ashland, because with the "50 foot" ordinance, pretty much all music in public could be shut down at any time 

For 2015, I am expecting to be back, when the weather is good, probably starting in late February, in the very same spot. I plan to be performing the many cello pieces I have offered and do some singing with my banjo as well. Over the winter I have composed a number of songs based on poetry from William Stafford, Naomi Shihab Nye and Derek Walcott, among others. I am getting better at playing banjo, and enjoying singing tremendously. We will see how that flies. 

As always, I love receiving feedback, so if you have any thoughts on any of this, send me a note at cellomansings@gmail.com.