Standing on a street corner, singing over buses and trucks – all while wrangling two young children armed with musical instruments – may not seem like the best environment for putting on a show. But that’s exactly where Carey Eyer and his family band thrive.
“Up until pretty recently, we didn’t have an amplifier,” Eyer, a Spokane stay-at-home dad, said. “So if a truck or a bus stops right behind you, you just have to sing louder. But that stuff – the noises, the people – is kind of the fun part.”
Eyer and his two daughters have been part of Spokane’s annual Street Music Week since 2012. That first year, Eyer played ukulele while Neilia belted out “Old MacDonald.” Youngest daughter Ivy sat by in a stroller as passers-by dropped change in their red bucket, all of which went to local food bank Second Harvest.
Now 9, Ivy is the band’s accordion and washboard-player in residence. Neilia, now 11, mostly plays violin and piano, but also counts mandolin and ukulele among her repertoire. Eyer himself plays ukulele and guitar, and his wife, Lara Hemingway, plays ukulele bass, which sounds like a bass guitar, but looks like a ukulele, Eyer said.
Eyer played instruments back in high school, he said, but got out of the habit as the years went on. When Neilia was gifted a ukulele around age 3, Eyer realized she would never have a clue what to do with it unless he did something about it.
So he began staying up late “relearning a few chords and songs” so he could teach his daughters.
“And I found that they really responded to music in this great way – you can convey emotion and expression so perfectly through music.”
What began as performing two- and three-chord kids’ songs about scrubbing your elbows in the tub became something the entire family looks forward to each year. Street Music Week provides a sort of “deadline,” a motivation to polish up those new songs they’ve been learning to best wow their crowd, Eyer said.
Each year, the Eyer Family Band has gotten a little better and added a few new tunes to the lineup, ranging from Chuck Berry to American folk standards. And, he said, the girls have learned to put their talents to use helping others around them.
It was Eyer’s idea to move Street Music Week online this year, rather than just calling the event off. He remembers last year’s event, after a particularly successful Friday performing in front of the food trucks on Wall Street. The red bucket contained more than $200 by the end of the day, and the girls were absolutely thrilled.
“They were just beaming, over the moon,” Eyer said. “They had worked so hard that day and they knew they did a good job for a good cause. I didn’t want that to go away this year.”
Eyer hopes this year’s virtual event will be just like walking down Main Street, hearing a new song from a different busker every 100 feet – except you’ll be scrolling through your Facebook feed instead.
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