Courtesy Derek Sexton Horani
Robert Leslie, a folk musician from England, performs on a rooftop on the upper East Side. He lives in Bushwick but was a globetrotting troubadour until about five months ago.
These subway buskers are about to scale new heights.
A Cobble Hill man created a monthly concert series where subterranean musicians will get paid to perform on city rooftops with skyline views.
“Subway Sets,” which begins Aug. 10, gives talented performers the undivided attention they deserve — and they can perform complete sets without being told to “Stand clear of the closing doors, please.”
“The problem with playing in the subways is that it’s just a moment,” said Dan Pierson, the series creator. “People might love your sound and be transfixed by it, but then the train comes and they have to go to work or go home and feed the dog.”
Pierson, 27, a recent transplant from San Francisco, came up with the idea after hearing a young British folk singer named Robert Leslie, 21, perform at the Second Avenue F train platform.
“I was blown away by his talent,” said Pierson. “I just wondered what would happen if I got him in front of a different crowd who would listen to a whole set of his music.”
Pierson threw a party on his own rooftop and paid Leslie to perform. He realized that a rooftop provided a perfect departure for musicians who toil daily in the stink and heat of the city’s subway system.
“There’s something powerful about bringing these musicians from below the streets to above the skyline,” said Pierson.
Leslie, who lives in Bushwick but was a globetrotting troubadour until about five months ago, said that while subway busking pays the rent, it’s not always pleasant.
Courtesy Vincent Mounier/ design by LA Hall
“Subway Sets,” which begins Aug. 10, is designed to give the city’s ubiquitous undergound performers the undivided attention they deserve — and an oppotunity to perform complete sets without being told to “Stand clear of the closing doors, please.”
“The subway is a hot, sticky hole in the ground,” said Leslie. “People are running away from you every five seconds.”
And with trains constantly screeching in and people scurrying to catch them, subway buskers sometimes find themselves straining to be heard above the din.
“In the subway you can only play very loud, crowd-pleasing songs,” said Leslie. “At a show, I can alternate between loud and quiet songs.”
To fund his idea for Subway Sets, Pierson set up a Kickstarter campaign on July 17 with the goal of raising $ 2,000 to rent a rooftop and pay multiple musicians. After just two weeks, he had raised $ 4,402 — double the amount he had originally hoped for.
Pierson also received a $ 1,000 grant from the Awesome Foundation, a Boston-based organization that supports creative projects. He will fund future concerts through ticket sales and brand sponsors.
The concert on Aug. 10 will take place on a yet-to-be-determined Brooklyn rooftop.
The featured musicians are Leslie; Morgan O’Kane, a banjo player from Virginia; Catey Shaw, a folk-pop ukulele player also from Virginia; Mountain Animation, a Brooklyn bluegrass duo, and another subway busker to be chosen by Pierson’s Kickstarter campaign donors.
Future musicians will be crowdsourced — New Yorkers can tweet to @subwaysets to make a recommendation.
Pierson hopes his series will give these unsigned musicians not only a supportive environment, but the ultimate dream: to come to the big city and shoot for the stars.
Subway Sets, Aug. 10 at 7:30 p.m., $ 20, location in Brooklyn TBD, visit www.subwaysets.com for tickets and info.