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Taking It to the Streets


The Urban Stage of Vigilante Guitarist Bruce Goldish

by Sarah Hammill

If a city is defined by its bustling streets and the streets are, in part, defined by the people who tread them, then street performers — who spend more hours pounding the pavement than the average passerby — are central to a city’s identity. The service they provide is often thankless — a couple of dollar bills in an upturned hat ain’t much — but without our Mason B. Masons or shadowed saxophone players, our sidewalks might be just sidewalks.

Fortunately for us, the streets of Santa Barbara have long been home to an ever-changing lineup of musicians and performers. Often we don’t know their real names, instead referring to them by their trademarks. There’s the boisterous, dreadlocked drummer who stakes out late-night State Street. There’s the cross-dressing trumpet player whose haunting notes have, on occasion, stopped me in my tracks. And now, there’s the parking complex guitar player, otherwise known as Bruce Goldish.

Goldish has toured the country multiple times over, playing shows in most of the major metropolitan areas, so why he took to playing the Cabrillo parking structure next to Borders is anyone’s guess. But what he discovered when he did was magical. “The first time I tried it, the transformation of an ugly, empty parking garage into a cathedral of sound washed away any humiliation of, well, playing a guitar in the corner of a parking garage,” he told me.

Since that first night, Goldish has played his brand of fingerstyle guitar for whomever happens by. In the beginning, an amp, a donation hat, and a bowl of candy were the only props he needed, but he recently added a guestbook to the cement lineup and has been pleasantly surprised by the response. “Sometimes I see a regular person and say hi. Later I read what they wrote and it takes my breath away,” said Goldish. From the silly to the serious, the pages of Goldish’s guestbook read like entries in the yearbook of the most loved kid in high school. “Thanks, it’s very crasy! You are so good. Sorry, my Englich,” scrawled a tourist from Montreal. “Beautiful music this evening, like being serenaded by the moon,” another visitor wrote.

Even the police have been known to park their squad cars on the street below to listen. One cop ordered from his bullhorn: “Keep playing. I like it!” Another bought a CD. More often than not, though, Goldish’s choice of location causes trouble with the law. “Police have moved me along a dozen times. One warned it would be a $1,000 fine if I came back,” he recalled. But even the threat of police involvement hasn’t been able to pull Goldish from his makeshift stage. “Every minute I play is precious because I know at any moment I could be stopped. That thinking kind of spills over into life, as well.”

If things keep heading in the direction they are going now, Goldish may not need the garage stage much longer. He has already been approached by a number of local venue owners and organizers, most recently by the folks from the Unitarian Church. Impressed by Goldish’s musicianship and his lovable personality, they booked a show with him for this upcoming weekend. But those in favor of his vigilante performances, fear not; Goldish — known for playing encore shows at his parking structure after having played a gig elsewhere — isn’t likely to abandon his personal music hall just yet. “Sometimes when I’m playing in another city,” he said, “I close my eyes and picture myself home, playing the parking structure, and I am energized.”

So if you happen by Goldish playing in the parking lot, take a moment to give him a nod, or write a note in his guestbook. While most of us downtown are focused on the next destination, he’s working to establish an emotional bond. His continuing performances are a reminder that despite our walls and rules, we’re all connected.

4•1•1 Bruce Goldish will perform Sunday, November 26 at 3 p.m. in the acoustically superb sanctuary of the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara (1535 State Street). Tickets are $10-$12, and are available at the door. Visit Goldish’s Web site at brucegoldish.com.

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