After one semester, Lou Smart, 20, decided not to return to SDSU. He asked his two brothers to move to San Diego and join him on the streets; since September, the three have been supporting themselves by busking in Balboa Park, the Gaslamp Quarter, and the Embarcadero.
The three used to play in metal and electronic bands; now they play old-timey instruments such as the pennywhistle, lute, mandolin, ukulele, accordion, concertina, kazoo, and spoons. They also lug along a xylophone, cymbals, and a saxophone. All three sing. They write their own harmony-heavy songs.
“We do this full time,” says J, 22. “We can play for a couple of hours at a time; that’s as long as the voice lasts. We get, like, $50 to $100 an hour unless it’s Christmas, when we get $200 an hour.”
“Getting harassed is almost a regular thing,” says Mickey, 20. “The bike cops are really uptight.”
“The cops are the harshest in the Gaslamp,” says Lou.
“Even though we play acoustic, they bust us up and down Fourth Avenue for being too loud even though we’re next to a noisy bar that’s louder than we are,” says J. “We have to pick up and move because they could take our instruments.…
“At the Embarcadero they leave us alone because we have permits,” continues J. “At Balboa Park, you get a permit on a month-to-month basis.… They say the best time to play Balboa Park is between noon and three p.m. on weekends. At the Embarcadero, prime time is nine in the morning or four in the afternoon; that’s when people get on or off the cruise ships.… At the Gaslamp, it’s, like, six p.m. to closing time.”
“You have to give a show if you want to survive on the street,” says J. “People walk up and think we’re public property. We’ve gotten some weird propositions. One guy wanted us to play this dungeon rave party.”
“We’ve had people who come in with a dollar and pretend they are giving money and then try to leave with a handful,” says Mickey. “People have tried to steal instruments. We’ve had to chase people down.”
They say no one has escaped with either cash or instruments. The Smart Brothers (myspace.com/thesmartbrothers) appear tomorrow at the Hot Monkey Love Café.