WASHINGTON – On his 21st birthday in August,Nova “Super Nova” Haynes found his fortune in a cookie.
“To capture the heart of the city,you have to capture the heart of the people,” Haynes read in the paper inside a cookie he ate in Chinatown.
Nine months later,he plays djembe,an African drum,on the sidewalks of Washington with Rob McCollum,22,who plays the guitar and sings. Their band,Herbn Myth,blends hip-hop,indie,rock and pop.
“We try to make music for people to walk through and to dance through,” Haynes said. “So far,we have been pretty successful.”
Haynes and McCollum are among a number of musicians who bring their instruments to the streets of the capital and make the sidewalks their center stage. They play for love of music and to make money.
Juventino Villeda,63,brings the accordion.
He learned the instrument when he was a child living in Guatemala. His father bought the accordion to his older brother,but every time Villeda was alone at home,he would steal the instrument and play around with it.
“I would take the accordion when nobody was watching,” Villeda said in Spanish. “And that’s how I learned to play it.”
The instrument is now his source of income. Villeda plays every day for about two hours. He makes from $50 to $150,depending on the day.
“I like the contact with the people,” he said. “The accordion is an instrument that is extinct in a way. The accordion music somewhat vanished,so the people get excited.”
Villeda mostly plays spiritual music,but he also plays Frank Sinatra,Italian,French and Brazilian songs. He sells CDs with Christian songs on his website.
In Washington,musicians are not allowed to perform or ask for tips inside Metro stations. The National Mall requires permits for public gatherings and events. On public sidewalks,musicians can open their instrument cases and collect money.
Villeda,who usually plays on sidewalks close to the stations,wishes he could play inside the stations because the accordion would sound louder.
“It’s an acoustic instrument,so here,with the sound of the cars you can’t appreciate it,” he said. So once in a while,he risks it. His favorite spot is the Cleveland Park station.
He auditioned Tuesday to perform at Metro entrances and on the National Mall from June through November. Villeda is competing with 62 other performers. A panel will select 15 winners to participate in MetroPerforms!,but they will not be paid and are not allowed to ask for tips.
Although musicians are spread around the city,it’s rare to spot a woman performing. Mary Hicks,24,is one of the few.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Virginia Commonwealth University. She moved to Washington a month ago hoping to become a full-time musician.
“I thought it would open up a lot of doors,and it did,” she said. “It’s a whole new network of people.”
She plays the trumpet with her band,M-Law and the Modern Prophets of Jazz,teaches twice a week at Muse Creative Workspace,an afterschool program in Richmond,Va.,and plays in the streets five days a week. Her favorite places are Chinatown,Georgetown and the entrance to the Farragut North metro station.
She performed on Richmond streets before,but she could barely buy lunch with the money she collected. In Washington,she makes from $75 to $150 a day,enough to pay all her bills.
“I don’t know why,but people seem to have a lot of appreciation,” she said. “There’s this myth that music is not a really a good way to make a living,but this is not true.”
Haynes and McCollum,of Herbn Myth,agree,and hope their band can become a mark of the city.
“It’s the biggest city I’ve lived in so far. There are a lot of opportunities,but to find good bands you have to really dig deep,” McCollum said. “There are no local role models. Our goal is to be this band that people come to see and enjoy that.”
They sometimes perform in bars,but most of their income still comes from the streets. They often play in areas with busy restaurants at night,including Adams Morgan,Dupont Circle and Chinatown.
“Everyone has their own ideal of life,” McCollum said. “For me,music is the ideal.”
Reach reporter Barbara Corbellini Duarte at [email protected] or 202-326-9866. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SFHWire.