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, from rock and roll covers to a woman playing a carpenter’s saw or a legally blind magician. If you want to find the very best of New York’s subway music, however, there are a few tips and tricks.
One very important thing to remember is that these performers don’t stay in one place. We’ve listed the locations that you are most likely to find them, but we stress that you should check out their websites to find out what their schedules are.
So what you’re looking for are the Music Under New York (MUNY) approved performers. Every spring hundreds of performers enter the MUNY competition. In 2015, the final was held in front of a jury of musicians and transit employees at Vanderbilt Hall, Grand Central station, and two dozen winners were selected. These winners were added to the list of MUNY approved performers, and can be seen at designated locations. The busiest of these feature the best acts and are listed below.
What you’ll see isn’t just limited to musicians either, with acrobats, break-dancers and poets can also regularly spotted all around the New York Subway system. If you notice that some of the subway performers are more accomplished than others, that’s because anyone is allowed to busk in New York’s subways stations, if they follow a few simple rules. In order to pump out amplified sound you need an official NYC Street Performing License or Permit, which costs around $45. There’s also no performing allowed on subway cars, and nobody is allowed to sell CDs or other merchandise. Spend a few minutes on the subway though and you’ll see every one of these rules being broken, because hey it’s New York. Did you know that jaywalking and unnecessarily honking your car horn in New York are also illegal? Watch as closely as you like, and you’ll never see anyone getting fined for either of those two offenses.
Among those busking around the city, some stars have even emerged. A number of MUNY performers have gone on to perform at prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. Possibly the most well-known of them is Alice Tan Ridley, a gospel singer who was featured on America’s Got Talent Season 5. Guitarist Kaki King also 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. Those who have already made it are even sometimes spotted around the New York subway. Recently performing artists include U2, Michael Bublé and Avril Lavigne.
These are some of the top locations to catch a live performance at subway stations. We’ve listed them by type of music or performance with the locations that you are more likely to find them. Just below is a list of the stations that always have performers, but there are many others that do host some of NYC’s best street performing talent.
It’s not just popular music to be found in the subway station. Actually, the depth and breadth of the musical performances is great, from bluegrass, to mariachi or gospel and lots of jazz.
Alice Tan Ridley – Gospel and Soul. Now, you are unlikely to find Ms. Ridley performing in the subway system any longer now that she rose to new heights of fame due to her performances on America’s Got Talent, but we are adding a video of her to demonstrate what you just might stumble upon down below.
Muhamadou Salieu Suso – hails from Gambia and performs on a 21 string Kora (West African harp). Suso usually performs at Columbus Circle station.
StreetMule – Percussion, Didgeridoo, Cajon- All performed at the same time!
Performing weekly at subway stations around New York City. Frequent stations include: Atlantic Junction in Brooklyn, Penn Station, Times Square Mosaics (near the 1/9 Train) and Times Square (main space on the mezzanine).
Chango – a Mexican duo that wear wrestling masks while performing electronic music.
The Saw Lady – Natalia Paruz has spent over a decade bringing the rare art form of playing music on a carpenter’s saw (known as the Musical Saw or Singing Saw) to audiences around the world.
While locals are annoyed by these talented dancers, 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.