Hank Greer has recently accomplished two feats that would strike cold fear into the heart of most people.
Two years ago, he and his wife Kathy rode their bikes across the entire United States, from Spokane to Maine, down to Key West and back across the South. It took 14 months, and most nights they didn’t know where they’d sleep until they got there.
But perhaps more frightening was performing in front of a crowd.
Greer, now a retiree, first found Street Music Week as a bystander. On lunch breaks from his job as information technology director for the U.S. District Court in Spokane, he’d stroll down to the nearest busker and shoot some photos and videos for the event’s planners to use for publicity. Greer played music himself, singing songs he wrote and playing ukulele or guitar. But he didn’t think he was good enough to ask for donations in return for a performance.
“We are our own worst critics,” Greer said. “My voice isn’t great, and my playing isn’t either. But I like to tell stories.”
During his cross-country bike trip, Greer found a lot of stories to tell. In Twin Falls, Idaho, the Greers stayed with Kathy Peterson – locally known as the River Angel, she patrolled the waters below the I.B. Perrine Bridge in a boat to rescue BASE jumpers who landed in the water. At the age of 66, she made her own BASE jump off the bridge, but a gust of wind carried her off-course. She landed hard on the land instead of the water, but survived with only a few scrapes. Peterson was a local legend, but only a tiny group of people really knew her story.
“She was one of those unsung heroes,” Greer said. “Those are the people I want to sing about.”
Greer also found a way to bring Street Music Week on the road with him. During the second full week in June, the event’s traditional time slot, the Greers were biking between North and South Dakota, then into Nebraska. Greer called Street Music Week founder Doug Clark, who mailed him one of the event’s trademark red buckets.
As they made their way across the Midwest, Greer set up shop with his ukulele outside restaurants and highway rest stops, busking wherever they happened to stop for a moment. He didn’t raise a lot of money, admittedly, which he chalked up to “no one knowing who the heck I was.” But at the end of the week, he mailed back the profits he did make to Clark, and they were donated with the rest to local food bank Second Harvest.
By 2019’s Street Music Week, Greer worked up the courage to set up on a Spokane street corner.
“I was all nervous the first day, but then I realized no one’s really paying attention,” Greer said. “So I just had fun with it. I found as long as I was telling a story, everything else just fell into place.”
In anticipation of the 2020 event, Greer went to a few open-mic events around the city. He ended up being the only performer there for most of them, but found that lent him an advantage – he had 45 minutes just to tell his stories, and no one critiqued him too harshly because they were busy eating dinner.
But after 2020’s Street Music Week moved online in light of COVID-19, Greer found himself actually missing the crowd. He’s participating in the virtual event, uploading renditions of his original folk- and rock-tinged compositions to the event’s Facebook page. But he misses the interaction and the validation gained from in-person busking, knowing he brightened someone’s day a bit even if they don’t drop any change in the bucket.
“With the real thing, at least you’re still connecting with people if not actually raising money,” Greer said.
Greer said he’ll keep practicing and gaining momentum for his 2021 Street Music Week performances. He’s excited to be helping raise money for a worthy cause like Second Harvest. According to founder Doug Clark, the weeklong event raised more than $1,900 in its first day Monday.
But personally, Greer said, he’s hoping to keep telling stories.
“I want more people to hear my songs,” Greer said. “My personal goal is to become Spokane’s next geriatric prodigy.”
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