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Subterranean Rush Hour Blues: Behind the Soundtrack to Your Commute 

Wednesday, Dec 18 2013

Page 4 of 4

Wilson was cited under the new ordinance, but was able to get his fine reduced in court. After receiving the ticket, he moved his performance to Fisherman's Wharf. There, the Port of San Francisco issues permits that restrict the decibel level and length of street performances, and performers like Wilson don't have to worry about being ticketed — unless they play without a permit. However, after the initial furor over the board's legislation, Wilson says enforcement dropped off in the Union Square area and he was able to return.

"There's street performers, and we're gonna be out there regardless of whatever law they try to enforce," Wilson says. "We're gonna be out there, and we're gonna be using amplification. The businesses are gonna be there, regardless of us being there or not. Unless we sit down together and talk about it, and maybe make some permit system like they have on the Wharf — the only way to have peace of mind is to communicate."

He says some street performers have discussed suing the city over the legislation, which they say violates their First Amendment rights to free expression.

"I certainly can't successfully do my act out there without amplification," Wilson says. "If we can sit down and create a system together and work on it not as enemies but as companions, Market Street is going to have a lot of cool acts. If this city is welcoming to street performers and supports them, you're going to see a lot of stuff on the street that you would see in a theater." Kate Conger

Kenny Chung

Guitar, Harmonica

Underground train stations

Eric Fournier


Underground train stations

Kenny Chung used to have terrible stage fright. It started in fifth grade: He was cast in Schoolhouse Rock! as The Bill. "I'm just a bill, sitting on Capitol Hill," he sings as a reminder. On opening night, he forgot all the words and just froze, staring out at the audience.

"Someone pulled me off and they played the fucking song over the speakers," he remembers. "After that, I had horrible stage fright, horrible anxiety when it came to just talking in front of people."

But now here he is, with a steel guitar and a fistful of harmonicas, playing covers — and some original songs, too — in the Montgomery BART station, and making a living at it. His secret to conquering his anxiety? He just closes his eyes.

Across the station is Eric Fournier, another young man with an acoustic guitar. Like Chung, he says he's earning his living through busking. It's no hobby; it's his day job. He plays in the station five days a week. He's even got regulars; there's a man who often stops by to listen after picking his daughter up from daycare.

"I remember when she was so small she couldn't even walk; she was a baby when I first started busking," Fournier says. "Every time I see him, he always waits with her in the stroller. Now she's getting so big, she walks around and jams and stuff. He always stops, and he always tips me."

Across the station, Chung launches back into one of his money-making covers, a rendition of "The Weight" by Bob Dylan. He admits that he sometimes drags a song out as long as possible: "I kind of feel like a dick to the attendants, because for my songs that will bring in money, I'll repeat verses. I'll drag on that song for another two minutes!" Earlier, someone tipped Fournier with a book about Bob Dylan, but he says Dylan isn't really a role model for him.

As Fournier and Chung play on opposite sides of the station, within earshot of each other, it seems like they're each other's competition. But the two get along just fine. Fournier even tipped Chung off to his favorite spot in the station, a corner that has the entrance on one side and the Muni ticket machines on the other. With commuters rushing down the stairs on his left and lining up to buy tickets on his right, it's the perfect spot to win tips. Whoever arrives first gets to play there.

On his way out of the station, Fournier tips Chung a dollar and says, "Bye, buddy." Chung will stick around for a little while longer — he's trying to save up enough money for a minivan, so he can take his act on tour.

But the mark of a good day isn't necessarily a large tip — although that certainly helps. "Occasionally, I'll get a couple that listens," Chung says. "Occasionally, I'll get a small crowd. And then sometimes — sometimes — they dance." K.C.

About The Authors

Kate Conger

Kate Conger has written for SF Weekly since 2011.
Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.
Rachel Swan

Rachel Swan

Rachel Swan was a staff writer at SF Weekly from 2013 to 2015. In previous lives she was a music editor, IP hack, and tutor of Cal athletes.


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