The Bearded Strangers

Over the past several months, the guys behind Setlist have been fortunate enough to travel across the US and overseas. On our travels, we hunt for musicians. Whether that’s in a pub or on the street, we’re always on the lookout. One of my most recent trips was to Baltimore. This was my first time in the city, and was not sure exactly where to go. I was pointed to an area called Fells Point where I was told local musicians played. I jumped in and out of bars all night, not based off food reviews or beer, rather the live music I heard while walking by. If I heard an intriguing sound from the street, I sat in for a while to take in everything I could. I was introduced to many artists this trip, though one stands out in particular.  

It was 1:30 in the morning and I was just starting my walk back to the hotel. It was surprising cold, and as I was underdressed, the walk was not very appealing. Debating about giving up and calling a cab, I heard the distant sound of an acoustic guitar and a muffled voice. Instead of calling for a ride, I made my way and followed the sound. I am so grateful that I heard this sound before I called a cab because this musician made my trip. As I rounded the corner, I spotted a bearded man with an old guitar playing on the side of the road. I stood and listened to him play. Suddenly, I forgot about being cold and tired, I was in the music—I was in every word that he sang. Something drew me in that I cannot explain. I felt connected with this musician without even talking to him. After a few more songs, he stopped and we started talking. I explained everything we stand for at Setlist and how we’re on the hunt for musicians who care. I was puzzled at what happened next. He did not seem interested in being featured, in getting his name out there, and had no social media accounts. He had no music to sell and was not taking donations. This took me by surprise and I asked “why?”. His reply reminded me of what we’re doing at Setlist.

 

He explained to me that he works from 7:00 in the morning to 10:00 at night. He made the point clear that he was not passionate about his job. He further exclaimed that his real passion is music, the only place that he truly felt like himself. He writes his own music and finds happiness getting to play it to anyone and everyone who will listen. He didn’t care about recordings, about followers, or money. He played because it made him happy. He figured if it brings him joy, it very well might bring joy to others—he was right. It was beyond refreshing finding a musician who simply played to play. Remember, it was pretty cold and around 1:30 in the morning on the streets of downtown Baltimore. If that isn’t passion, I don’t know what is. He reminded me why we’re doing what we’re doing at Setlist. We often preach that we’re searching for musicians who give a shit; similarly, we are searching for passion. I did not get his name or contact information, and I am actually thankful. Though I would love to look him up and highlight his music, what he stands for is even bigger: follow your passions, whatever the cost. We can all take a lesson from the Bearded Stranger that I was honored to meet in my travels. I left Baltimore feeling reinvented and wanting more. I can only hope that I am lucky enough to find other “Bearded Strangers” in future travels.