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Street Music Week launched with 40-plus performers

Tue., June 11, 2013

The 11th annual Spokane Street Music Week kicked off with stellar sunny weather and 40-plus performers, including a juggler, a ukulele made out of a cigar box and Cole Barber, 15-year-old master of something he called the “Chinese yo-yo.”

“I actually started when I was 7,” explained Barber, who added that it took a couple of years to nail some of the trickier tricks.

It seems like there’s always something new to be heard or seen at Spokane Street Music Week.

The event continues all week with entertainers performing during the noon hours on the sidewalks of the downtown business core and the Garland district.

As always, every penny collected during the week goes to the Second Harvest food bank to help feed the area’s hungry.

Speaking of Garland, Julie Shepard-Hall, who is organizing the event in that neighborhood, said several musicians turned out with more on the way as the week progresses.

“It’s very simple and fun,” she said.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking … “But, Doug. What if I can’t get downtown or to Garland during Spokane Street Music Week?”

Well, don’t you fret. You can donate painlessly to the food bank via our website:

But getting back to that yo-yo contraption …

To my uneducated eyes, Barber’s Chinese yo-yo looked like two red wine glasses fused together at the stems.

The teenager flipped the yo-yo high into the air and down onto long strings connected to handles.

Don’t try this at home, kids. You’ll put your eye out.

Barber was part of a small cadre of performers who – God bless ’em – traveled to Spokane Street Music Week all the way from North Idaho’s famed Silver Valley.

Among the group was Mike Green, a phenomenal juggler from Wallace who wowed pedestrians on the sidewalks outside River Park Square.

“I do one thing well,” Green quipped when I complimented him.

“But at least it’s one thing.”

Maybe the grand weather had something to do with it. But practically everybody I met Monday was wearing a huge smile.

Especially Sarah De Ryan.

The 80-year-old concertina player was already waiting for me when I arrived a full hour early to my street music check-in spot outside Starbucks, near Main Avenue and Post Street.

“I’m rarin’ to go,” she told me.

I signed her in and gave her a red collection bucket and badge identifying her as an official “busker,” the archaic word for street performer.

I wanted to chat some with De Ryan, but she wasn’t having any of that. “I want to get started early,” she said, and took off with her concertina in tow.

There’s no shortage of sidewalk real estate for anyone with a hankering to perform for our worthy cause. Show up at the aforementioned location prior to noon. That’s all it takes.

Over the years we’ve hosted itinerate comedians, sleight-of-hand magicians and even artists with brushes and paints.

Musicians, of course, are the event’s mainstay. Although even that group is fragmented into every genre you can imagine: jazz, rock, folk, bluegrass …

“It’s a cigar box baritone resonator ukulele,” Carey Eyer said of the instrument that was built for him recently by a friend.

Eyer brought the family band with him: daughters Ivy, 2, and 4-year-old Neilia, who told me she was going to sing “Rocky Top.”

Consider some of the upcoming wonders to be found at Spokane Street Music Week.

Wednesday at 12:15 p.m., for example, Mayor David Condon and City Council President Ben Stuckart will appear at the Starbucks location to sing “Ebony and Ivory.”

This duet for the ages was incorrectly reported in my Sunday column as making its debut Tuesday.

Apparently there was some miscommunication between the mayor’s office and Jim Lyons, Street Music Week’s (Almost) High Commander.

I suspect what happened is that Lyons stopped listening and started convulsing with laughter at the words, “Ebony and Ivory.”

On a more harmonic note, Peter Rivera, fantastic former lead singer of Rare Earth, will sing “Get Ready” and his other smash hits at the Starbucks site on Thursday.

Before signing off, I thought you should hear how things went with Spokane’s first-ever street music sister city – Appleton, Wis.

“Really good,” said Audrey Hendrickson, a drummer and the event’s coordinator.

“We had 38 musicians, and it was so cool to see them all playing on the street. I was kind of freaked out and worried, but it went so smooth.”

I know the feeling, Audrey.

It’s easy to get bogged down worrying about turnout numbers or how much money will come in. But going down that road takes away from what this is really all about.

And that is to celebrate the arts and to make the city a more vibrant, exciting place to be.

“It’s good for the community,” Hendrickson added. “There was good energy. It was awesome.”

After Monday’s event, I packed up my gear, grabbed some lunch and finally headed back to my car about 2 p.m.

On the way, I thought I heard music being played. I looked up the street. There was white-haired Sarah De Ryan, sitting near a curb and playing a tune on her concertina.

“I had some more songs left in me,” she said, “and I had to get ’em out.”

Yep. Awesome is the word.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by email at

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