Ray Duckler: Playing for the love of music and a few bucks, too
Kevin Clark, of Concord, plays his acoustic guitar in Eagle Square in Concord on Friday morning, July 5, 2013. Clark says he has been playing in the same spot, every day, for almost two years.
TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff
Kevin Clark poses for a portrait in Eagle Square in Concord on Friday, July 5, 2013. Clark says he has been playing his acoustic guitar in the same spot, every day, for almost two years.
TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff
Kevin Clark fills a small section of downtown each day with sweet acoustic music and a gentle, sometimes raspy voice.
Open your ears and you’ll hear Cat Stevens and The Beatles and Bon Jovi and Bob Dylan. Open your eyes and you’ll see a man with a sunburned face and blue jeans that he wears no matter what the temperature reads on the digital sign across the street.
Open your mind and you’ll hear a story, not much different, perhaps, than your own. Clark, 52, is the divorced father of three. He’s had dreams that have slipped through his fingers, joy from the love of a good woman and tough financial times.
Clark also happens to be homeless; he lives at a small campsite somewhere off Manchester Street. He strums and picks his guitars – 6- and 12-string – from late morning through the afternoon, nearly every day, beneath the black arch at Eagle Square. He rarely takes a day off, offering a service so he can earn a living, walking 45 minutes to play on his stage.
If you’re a passer-by, it’s one of the best deals in town.
Sometimes people walk by and drop change, sometimes bills, into his small cooler, which sits in front of the placard announcing he’s part of the city’s busking program.
Other people dart by, engaged in conversation, focused on what’s ahead on Main Street and in life. The nervous people, those who see a homeless man with stringy hair tucked behind his ears, might shoot a glance from the corner of their eye, then quickly shift their sights away.
Those who contribute money receive a warm, genuine smile and a soft “thank you” from a man who wants no sympathy, a man who does not merely ask for money without giving you something in return.
“I could be happier, but I’m not despondent or anything like that,” Clark said. “I have my days. I’d
rather be in an apartment and have a full-time job. I love doing this, and this is what I’d love to do full time. I’m lucky that I can do what I love, but . . .”
His voice trails off, but his meaning is obvious: Money is tight, and busking is a tough way to make a living.
“I’m in this mode right now where I come out here and I’m out here as long as I can be, playing as much as I can, trying to make as much as I can so I have money,” Clark said. “If I’m looking for a week for a job and I’m not out here playing, then I’m not making any money, and if I don’t get a job, it was kind of a wasted effort.”
Raised in Pembroke, he once worked as a medical assistant at the New Hampshire Hospital, cooked at the Fox Pond Tavern in Loudon, cleaned at Planet Fitness. He got married and had three kids and thought maybe one day he could play his guitar and sing for money.
About 20 years ago, in fact, he and a guitar-playing friend sent a demo of their music to a band. Clark said the band asked to hear more, but he and his playing partner did not get along, life got in the way and the dream faded into the past.
To this day, Clark said he regrets the fact that he never pursued the one chance he had at playing music professionally. So he played with passion and for pleasure, and he played John Denver’s “My Sweet Lady” for his wife at their wedding.
“There are a lot of things I should have done differently, and maybe some things I shouldn’t have done,” Clark said. “I should have taken more chances on being more forceful about the music.”
He began playing his guitar in public two years ago, when he had a cleaning job and an apartment near downtown. He lived with two of his children periodically then. He made it clear that playing for tips and his homelessness are not connected, at least not directly.
“I don’t want to combine being homeless and doing this,” Clark stressed. “This is not because I’m homeless. I’ve only been homeless since December.”
Still, his music now produces his only source of income. He made $122 last Christmas Eve, his best day yet. He made $28 one day last week, saying, “It was a good day.”
But no one was around on the Fourth of July, and Clark had just $3 in his cooler. The American flags blew in the wind across the street, but the relief was hard to feel, and the bank’s digital clock read 95 degrees by 2:30 p.m.
Motorcycles and the Concord Area Transit buses often drown out Clark’s music and words on a typical day, but this was a holiday, and Main Street was quiet.
A couple of young men, one with an open shirt and stoned eyes, another with a thick beard and bicycle, stopped by and spoke loudly to each other, cursing and screaming that it was good to be free on Independence Day.
They know Clark, see him all the time, but showed no respect for his music. They offered Clark a puff of something called spice, which mimics the effects of pot, but he politely declined and kept playing.
Clark rarely varies from his routine. Like the huge pendulum that swings a few feet away in the giant clock tower, Clark is gentle and consistent, still playing, still wearing those jeans, still rolling his own cigarettes and allowing the breeze to clear the ashes as the butt hangs from his mouth.
A blond-haired girl, perhaps a young woman in her late teens, walked by and extended her right arm.
She was holding two dollar bills, ready to place them in the cooler.
“Hey,” the girl said, “thanks for being here every day.”