Clutching antique violins, guitars and accordions, the musicians of State Street create a soundtrack for the downtown.
As spring finally emerges, State once again draws Madison’s diverse street performing community together to share their music. Only hours before the Badger’s Final Four tip-off Saturday, performers hit the street armed with a variety of instruments and stories.
Glen Kuenzi, a freshman at West High School and member of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony, was given his violin by his grandfather, who bought it years ago in an Irish music store. While he has been playing it for seven years, Kuenzi only recently began performing on State Street.
“I love to play the violin so I figure why not come out here and share that with other people while making a little money,” he said.
Kuenzi wants to follow his musical passion in the future, planning to major in music in college followed by a career in performance or musical education. Street performance is only “a means to an end,” he said.
David Sewell, a country guitarist who was playing just a couple blocks down from Kuenzi, remembered the 15-year-old, saying he was one of the only kids that has not gotten bored and given up street performance. He said dozens of kids come to perform on State Street, but the number that return after a couple days of performing are minimal.
Sewell, who is originally from Kentucky, has been playing his guitar for 69 of his 75 years. Performing on State Street since 1985, Sewell has managed to make a living solely through street performance.
“All my life, that’s all I’ve ever done, played music,” Sewell said. “I’ve been doing this since ’85 and it’s not too bad. Some days are good but other days its like ‘Wow, what am I doing here?’”
The street performance community in Madison is “very vibrant” and over the years there have been several big collaborations done by the different musicians, Sewell said. As a lead guitarist for several bands in Nashville, Tenn., Sewell has played an instrumental role in putting these collaborations together in the past.
Nicole Von Ludke, a 21 year-old traveling accordion player, agreed the sense of community in the city is “something special.” Having traveled to every state in the country, Ludke said she is now ready to leave the U.S. and head to either South America or Europe, where she wants to continue playing the accordion while collaborating with other musicians.
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“I played the cello for most of my life but I never really considered street performing as a viable source of income or a viable way to make art,” she said.
Before coming to Madison, Ludke was able to survive entirely on income from her performances. She said the key to making money is finding the perfect spot to set up. Ludke was set up under the awning of the Orpheum Theater on State Street Sunday.
“A street performer never gives away a good watering hole,” she said.
Ludke said the work can be exhausting, but ultimately, sharing her music with the public while having the freedom to travel and meet other musicians is rewarding enough for her to feel fulfilled.