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 fourth in a five-part series:
While you read, listen to this live performance of “Living Waters”, an original piece by Gregory James Blanke. Recording taken at 5th Ave & Pike, Downtown Seattle transit tunnel entrance on September 21, 2011.
NAME: Gregory James Blanke
STAGE: Transit tunnel entrance at 5th Ave & Pike, just outside of Nordstrom
As shoppers enter and exit Nordstrom, the swinging doors release delicate puffs of perfumed air to mix with the ever-present smell of diesel fumes at the 5th and Pike entrance of the downtown transit tunnel. And, while the escalators are mostly empty of people, they do carry sweet sounds from the flute of long-time busker, Gregory James Blanke. With almost four decades of playing in the city, Blanke never stops relishing opportunities to deliver what he calls “soft music in a hard place.”
SM: What’s the significance of Living Waters?
GB: I came up with Living Waters about five years ago. I had spent some time in the mountains and there was this stream that inspired me. The sound of the water was like beautiful music and listening to it was almost a spiritual experience. I wanted to write a song that would impact others in the same way. The way that the notes sort-of trickle along reminds me of that stream. I’ve even had random people come up to me and say that it reminds them of running water.
SM: Why do you busk?
GB: I play to make an impact. I see people walk through here everyday and some of them look like they’re hurting inside or they’re upset and I try to help them with music. If I can make a person stop and say, “That’s beautiful” then I’m happy. I’ve performed at numerous clubs and concert halls, but I think the difference between me and someone who goes inside is that they overdo music too often, using all kinds of effects and machines. I like things simple and this is as simple as it gets.
SM: How long have you been performing?
GB: I’ve been doing it on and off for 35 years, sometimes holding down part time jobs and sometimes performing full time. No matter what I do, I’m always drawn back here. I can’t seem to stay away.
SM: Why do you play at the tunnel instead of on the street or at one of the markets?
GB: I’ve played all over town on all sorts of instruments, but my favorite thing to play is the flute. At the market and on the street, the wind and traffic noise easily obscure the subtle beauty of the flute. Down here in the tunnel, the sound is amazing and what I play can be more appreciated.