Nashville street performer goes against the grain

Editor’s note: During each Chips Quinn orientation and multimedia training in Nashville, Tenn., scholars are required to complete a mobile media reporting module, which includes producing videos and reporting and writing stories. Their work is displayed here.

by Sierra Brown

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—The wild bellow of the guitars and bass, accompanied by the soulful croons of aspiring singers, blows from every block on Broadway, making Nashville’s local music scene competitive for tourists’ attention and money.

That’s why street performer Jerone Williams rakes in $503 on a good day, playing classical tunes on his keyboard.

Williams has ensconced himself atop the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge over the Cumberland River, a few paces away from the renowned downtown music scene. His set-up is simple: a small amp, a keyboard and a tip bucket with the words “thank you for tipping” sketched in green letters across the body.

Jerone Williams gazes over the Cumberland River in Nashville, Tenn., as he performs for passersby on the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge. (Photo by Sierra Brown)

His unique take on Yiruma’s “River Flows In You” compliments the soft sounds of the river he performs above, and the occasional breeze paints a peaceful picture.

Williams says Nashville is stop one of his solo cross-country tour. His final destination is Las Vegas, the best place to be for street performers, he says.

The 29-year-old pianist says that nine years of classical piano training has allowed him to stand out among other street performers.

“If you’re going to be a street performer, you have to get the attention,” Williams says. “You can’t get the attention around a bunch of noise, around a bunch of competition.”

Standing out is only half the battle. Many singer-songwriters in Nashville long to perform original pieces, but the ticket to being booked for gigs at local bars and clubs is the ability to perform cover songs, performers say.

Kyle Bruich, lead guitarist for local rock band Lady and The Gents, says that patrons of clubs on Broadway want to drink a beer and sing along to their favorite songs.

“When you’re playing on the Broadway scene, it’s more about what people want to hear … It’s more about pleasing the crowd. There’s not really original music. Not as much as you’d want to do it. It’s more about throwing a party down here,” Bruich says.

Jerone Williams plays his keyboard on the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge in Nashville, Tenn., in May. (Photo by Sierra Brown)

Having extensive knowledge of music is a must, so when a patron requests a song, the musician can play it, Bruich says.

“If someone comes up and gives the band $100 to perform a song, and you’re the one in the band that doesn’t know the song, you just cost the band money,” he says.

Williams shies away from venues on Broadway because he lacks a repertoire of cover songs, he says, adding that his knowledge of solo piano songs dominates. Luckily, he’s not trying to bring in a pile of cash every night, but he says he wants to be comfortable, at least.

“I don’t want to be famous … I want to be successful enough to live comfortably and live a comfortable life,” Williams says.

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