Star-Bulletin Features

Sunday, July 15, 2001


The Kalakaua Avenue crowd swirls around C.R. Dudley
while he searches for the perfect spot.

Modern minstrel’s
shaky debut

To sing on the streets,
first curb your nerves

By C.R. Dudley

I STARTED in Kapiolani Park with an old George Jones song. I sat down right in the middle of the largest, emptiest field, where young couples discover each other in the blackness of night and stars shine down like rain, a spot where nobody on earth would hear me sing.

I wanted to start there, as far from anyone as I possibly could get to ease myself into my first Waikiki street performance.

I'm a bit of a musician. I can play guitar. I've played with friends and for friends, but I've never played music for strangers. The thought of playing a guitar for a passerby scared me. The thought of singing a song for a stranger terrified me.

Given the assignment to speak from inside the world of the street performer, I found myself agonizing over the prospect of opening up in that peculiarly personal way.


Mauka Makai cover

I worried. I waited. I tried to beg it off. I tried to convince a friend to perform in Waikiki with me -- there is comfort in numbers. In the end I found myself alone, with my guitar, forcing a steady walk toward the middle of Kapiolani Park so that I could begin the assignment and be done with it.

After a few songs, I moved closer to Waikiki. Finding a park bench out of the light but near enough to the sidewalk to be heard, I sang to passersby in a low voice. They ignored me and I was happy for it.

It doesn't help that I've been infected with whatever disease it is that makes a man love country music, that I really just do not know any popular songs or even songs most people would recognize.

It doesn't help that my throat tightens when I get nervous, forcing my singing voice up into my nose and well out of key. Nor does it help that my hands, fairly nimble from a few years hitting bar chords, turn into paws, dumbly flubbing simple riffs and missing easy open strums as soon as I try to play for anyone not close to me.

From my park bench I looked down Kalakaua Avenue's sidewalk. At 9 p.m. on a summer night, it was filled with tourists, street performers, people handing out leaflets, others reading Bible verse. I tried to calm my nerves by telling myself that no one would notice me strumming an old guitar in the midst of all of that activity and noise. The thought was no comfort.

Briefly, I considered drinking a bunch of beer to ease myself into street performing, but then I decided that would be cheating. "Do it or don't do it," I said to myself, "but decide now." I was done torturing myself.

Like a condemned prisoner finally accepting his fate, I slung the guitar over my shoulder and walked toward Kalakaua Avenue. I pulled my hat (my shield) low over my head and stared at the ground as I walked. The guitar felt like a calling card: LOOK AT ME!

I walked past Kapahulu Avenue, past Liliuokalani Avenue and Kaiulani Avenue, through the groups of teenagers on vacation and foreign conversations, past Seaside. I walked all the way to Nike Town on the other end of Waikiki.

Oh, I was just checking the field, I told myself. Just getting the lay of the land. I doubled back, past Lewers and Seaside, past Liliuokalani and Kaiulani, past Kapahulu all the way back into the darkness of Kapiolani Park. My fears were getting the best of me.

Get this over with! I admonished myself. I had to finish this assignment. Finally, I found a curb outside of the new Galleria building and sat down.

I tuned my guitar for an hour and a half.

After that, I put the hat on the ground, upside down for donations. No one seemed to notice me. I picked it up and pulled it down low, low, low over my eyes.

Taking up one of the three cowboy chords I forced myself into a sporadic, illbegotten version of one of Randy Travis's hits.

"My love is deeper than the holler, stronger than the river..." I sang/screeched.

The 3-minute song seemed to last four hours. There are only two verses and a chorus but they became biblical in length when I found myself singing them in front of strangers.

I didn't look up. I didn't notice them. I don't know if they noticed me. When the song ended, seemingly having run out of itself like a moped does 10 gallons of gas, I hopped up and ran down a sidestreet with a mile-long smile. Whew.

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