As they banged away on a stack of overturned buckets in the sweltering heat of a Saturday afternoon, Brandon Miller and Christian Simmons took shelter under the shadow of the Torpedo Factory with a sign at their feet: Drumming for Tuition.
Jobless even after applying to more than 10 positions, they decided to give street performing a shot, making the 45-minute commute from Stafford to the waterfront every weekend to drum up money.
The young duo expects to earn $2,000 each by summers end, which will go toward their first year of college. Its a sum that has surprised their friends and drawn envy, Miller said. He plans to major in music for percussion and hopes the extra money will cover the cost of books and living expenses.
From the waterfront, up King Street, in alleyways and on corners, buskers, or street musicians, dot the Old Town scene. Beto Guzman, a Peruvian immigrant who speaks little English, makes a career out of letting his guitar and Andean flute a sampoa do all the talking.
Harry Miller, an unshaven, retired school bus driver, plucks his banjo a few blocks away. Sitting on a sack, he says people often mistake him for a homeless man.
Curtis Blues blows frantically on his harmonica while strumming a guitar and tapping a kick-drum with his foot.
Come on, baby, dont you think that pictures worth a dollar? he called out to a woman snapping a photo of the one-man blues band at work. Im in the asking business.
Busking is a trade first documented in ancient Greece where the government punished slanderous lyricists with death. Alexandria doesnt go to such extremes, but there are regulations: performers cannot amplify sound or block the normal flow of traffic, and must move if asked by a vendor.
They are light requirements compared to those overseas, according to Hubert Pynenburg, a Dutchman in town visiting relatives. He stops and drops change into a yawning guitar case at the citys marina.
[Back home] you have to get a permit and you have to be good. You have to perform in front of someone to prove you are good enough, he said.
The guitar case belonged to Kuku Adebola, a burly, bald and bearded Alexandria singer by way of Nigeria. The mellow tune to which he swayed matched his gentle demeanor, and that of his self-titled album, Soldier of Peace. While many musicians are just trying to make ends meet, Adebolas motivation adds diversity to what draws these performers out onto the street.
A lot of people come out here for the money. I love money but not as much as I love music I dont have a social life. This is my social life, he said, greeting familiar faces hes met from years of performing in the same spot.
Adebola plays an eclectic set strongly influenced by traditional African music. Playing to crowds is his way of testing out new ideas without having to deal with the music industry, which he likes to avoid.
Two recent graduates of Edison High School share Adebolas belief in putting the music before the money. David Chung and Trey Douglass move about the spot theyve staked out in front of Market Square their stage. For a year, they have harmonized their voices with an acoustic guitar and an electric ukulele to alternative originals and covers of classics for the busloads of tourists passing by.
Weve made maybe $90 for playing three or four hours, Chung said. But we just like to make people smile.