Pioneer Square was where we used to go when we skipped class during high school. It’s a big brick square where a wide range of Portland residents gather to have lunch, converse, and people-watch. But today, I lugged my speaker, microphone, merch, and guitar to a little tent in the middle of “Portland’s Living Room” to sing for people who love food.
I have always believed that food, music, and laughter are the universal languages. When experiencing all three of those things at once, I feel like the richest woman in the world. In that same vein, I feel it’s my civic duty to participate in the energy exchange of music and food. I love to be fed a delicious homemade meal while playing music for people. It seems we all have a hunger that cannot be satisfied by just dinner, but also by good company and song. It makes sense to put the two together.
At a farmer’s market, I often play more cover songs than I would during a show where people are paying some amount of money to be in the room. Today I played at least six songs that were written by other people – mostly because I love them, but also because those songs feel comfortable in people’s ears. People are more likely to listen to one of my originals if they just heard Springsteen’s “Dancin in the Dark.” Besides, I also get more tips if people recognize a few tunes in the mix.
Today, a woman named Meredith came up to me before I even started and told me that she was a long-time fan but had never heard me play before. She and her family sell cookies at the market, and she excitedly gave me a big box of them, in exchange for a CD. Sure, I need money just like everyone else, but how nice it was to trade my wares for hers. I think that sort of interaction is crucial to a thriving community – those cookies have value and so does my music. Not just in a vacuum, but in relation to each other.
When I’ve played at farmers markets in the past, I’ve gone around to the stands afterward, with a basket. The farmers will load me up with their beautiful produce. They always seem grateful for music that keeps people shopping longer, and happy to provide me with the means to make a healthy meal. Today I even lent my microphone to an incredibly enthusiastic older Indian man who just wanted his voice to be heard. He sang, loud and clear, for about three minutes – a scale that is so hauntingly unfamiliar to Westerners. It was a beautiful thing. He danced to my folk songs for an hour, punching his hands high in the air during the louder parts.
In other words, I basically just got fed and paid to practice my songs.
These days I have my hands increasingly full with my two children. Playing for two hours at a farmers market gives me the opportunity to play new songs and make a little money. The best part is, it helps me remember that music is a part of a bigger ecosystem. Music, food, laughter, and people all need one another to stay healthy and wealthy.