Seattle mag editorial assistant Patrick Hutchison and local musician Matt Badger, of Ravenna Woods, team up to explore Seattle's street music scene, recording the stories and songs that help compose our city’s soundtrack. The last in a five-part series:
*While you read, listen to this live performance of “Lena and the Lake”, by Finn Juhl. Recording taken at the University District Farmer’s Market on October 1, 2011.
As soon as his fingers touch the keys, Finn Juhl instinctively closes his eyes. Drawing on his busking income and the support of his wife, the 26 year-old German native has traveled all over the world, from Europe to New Zealand and now, Seattle. The old-world tunes pumped from his accordion resonate deeply with the market atmosphere. His waltzes turn Husky fans arguing over asparagus prices into the muddled conversations of gypsy merchants and his tangos transform the pneumatic puffs of Metro buses into the snorts and chortles of cart horses. The songs transport listeners to a different time and place. When he plays “Lena and the Lake,” that place is Spain.
SM: What’s the story behind “Lena and the Lake”?
FJ: It’s a waltz that was inspired and partially written by a good friend of mine while he was living in southern Spain, near a lake. Every morning he would wake up and see this beautiful girl swimming in the lake completely naked. That song is about her.
SM: How is busking different in the States when compared to New Zealand or Europe?
FJ: I was timid at first. It might have just been me or my perception, but it seemed like there wasn't as much of an appreciation for street musicians in the States. For example, in Europe I frequently played on buses and trains. People were usually very open to it, unless you played horrible music loudly. But overall it was appreciated. A few days ago, I decided to start playing on the light rail, not for money but for fun, and I had a harsh encounter with a police officer who told me I had to stop. He wasn't mean about it and I don't think everyone's like that, but it was a bad first encounter for me.
SM: Do you busk full-time or do you work in other capacities?
FJ: Busking provides my main income, but I don't have any bills, I don't pay rent, I don't have health insurance or any expensive addictions. I like it because it's a good way to live. In fact, what I like most is when people tip me in fruits or vegetables because that's what I would use the money for anyway. In that way, it's more like a trade. You can give me a dollar and I'll just go buy a beet, but I like it more if people just give me the beet.
SM: Do you feel like you can always rely on busking to provide that income?
FJ: Yeah, that's a good question. I sometimes wonder about that. It is depending on the economy. People are not going to give buskers something before they give themselves something, if they have extra to give. I worry about that sometimes. Sometimes I think about going to University and studying just to have something else and sometimes I worry that if I rely on music too much it won't be as fun anymore. I don't want my passion to change because I depend on it too heavily.
NAME: Finn Juhl
STAGE: University District Farmer’s Market