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This post is about how to find New York City street performers, particularly within subway stations. We include some popular performances and where you have the best chance to find them.
While you will see many buskers on the subway trains and stations, at certain subway stations, the performers are hand-picked by the Music Under New York (MUNY) committee of the MTA. (Read below for more details on the MUNY Program.)
These stations are just a few where you can find top performers:
TIP: Some of our pay-what-you-wish guided walking tours utilize the subway to go from location to location. You stand a good chance of spotting some performers during our tours.
By walking into any subway station you’re more than likely to find a subway performer. The depth and breadth of the performances can be inspiring and innovative, from classic rock ‘n’ roll covers to doo-wop acapella troupes, to a woman playing a carpenter’s saw or a legally blind magician.
Below are some of the better bands and performers you can find easily. Keep in mind that they aren’t always in the same location. We’ve listed the locations that you are most likely to find them, but you should always check out their websites or Facebook pages to find out their schedules.
You may have guessed it. They are a Beatles cover band. Well, they are actually a classic rock cover band, and as you can see from the video, they are very good at getting commuters to stop and enjoy a moment out of their busy day. As of early 2019, you can see them at these times and locations:
TIP: If you are a Beatles fan, you might want to visit the John Lennon Imagine memorial in Central Park and the Dakota Building where he lived. Our post, The Dakota Apartments, has details on where to find the building, the memorial, and history of the building.
Suso hails from Gambia and performs on a 21 string Kora (West African harp). Suso usually performs at Columbus Circle station.
Percussion, Didgeridoo, Cajon- all performed at the same time! Frequent stations include Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Penn Station, Times Square Mosaics (near the 1/9 Train) and Times Square (main space on the mezzanine).
A Mexican duo that wears wrestling masks while performing electronic music.
While some locals can be frustrated by having seen multiple performances year after year, visitors to NYC generally find their performances pretty amazing. You will usually find these performances on the subways, particularly on express trains, which give these performers the time needed to complete their performances.
Don’t be embarrassed if you need to duck your head!
Flexing is a type of street dance that originated in Brooklyn and can be seen all over the subway system.
Justin Sight is legally blind, which makes his performances all the more amazing.
A number of MUNY performers have gone on to perform at prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. Guitarist Kaki King practiced long and hard on the subway before making it big, and even Robin Williams brought in some extra bucks as a mime outside the Museum of Modern Art while studying at Juilliard.
Possibly the most well-known of them is Alice Tan Ridley. Though you won’t likely see Ms. Ridley these days, her story is the fairy tale that all subway performers hope for. After performing her incredible renditions of soul music for 30 years in the subway, she landed a spot on America’s Got Talent, and a career was born. The performers that you might see today, might be tomorrow’s greatest stars!
Those who have already made it are even sometimes spotted around the New York subway, reliving their early days, like Michael Bublé and Avril Lavigne. Here’s a clip of U2 busking in disguise in 2015 for the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.
Every spring, hundreds of performers enter the MUNY competition. Musicians go through a rigorous audition process and only the best are selected, so you know you will find quality performers at these stations. (Watch this video of the 2018 auditions).
Once selected, the new performers are selected and join the ranks of over 300 other musicians and groups who have been selected over the years. Once picked, performers vie to book 2-week slots for one of the 30 most popular spots in New York City subways.
Even though the MTA chooses select performers, anyone can play in the subway as long as they follow MTA’s Transit Rules of Conduct. This means that you will likely come across all sorts of performances – many times right in the subway car with you!
Keep an eye out for random musicians and performers that board the subways and liven up the atmosphere. Imagine starting your day on the subway with a 5-piece mariachi band!
If you can, please give a tip. Even a few coins and a smile will be appreciated by the entertainers of the subway!