By Eunbi Cho/UW News Lab
The Lynnwood Shopping Center on Highway 99 appears to be your typical shopping complex – a source for groceries, electronics, books and more. However, those who shop there regularly know a delightful secret: It is also a hub of local street musicians.
A handful of musicians perform there regularly, from singers to players of banjos and xylophones, according to Myka Watson, who worked more than a year at Radio Shack, one of the stores in the shopping complex.
On a given day, it’s hard to tell the exact time and which musicians will appear. Sometimes they come in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon; sometimes they show up regularly, sometimes they miss a day or don’t show up a couple of months. Simply, they come in and perform whenever they want. It’s like a live show without a fixed performance time.
When I arrived at the Lynnwood Shopping Center on a recent afternoon, I first saw a man immersed in singing, standing between the Trader Joe’s and Half Price Books. All he had was some worn-out sheet music, a little basket for tips, a harmonica and his voice. He sang strenuously on and on, often repeating certain parts of a song as if he were practicing for an important vocal contest.
Mike Dehaven, 59, has been singing at the shopping center for about a decade because he enjoys singing for himself and for others.
“It’s called busking. It’s very rewarding because it gives me energy,” Dehaven said.
He said he chose the Lynnwood Shopping Center as his performing stage because it’s lively and people listen to him.
“This is my audience that comes by here. It never ends. It’s better for me to train in front of people than against a wall,” Dehaven said.
Some may consider street performers amateurs but Dehaven is honing his skills like any other professional musician would do.
“Just trying to get better and better all the time. That’s what you have to do. You have to train like every other athlete,” Dehaven said.
Dehaven said he had been learning a new song and practicing at the shopping center for two hours every day in order to stay tuned.
“The secret is to learn a new song every day. Since I was 12 years old, I learned a new song every day. If I don’t practice a song, it would drop out of my mind,” he said.
He added that he prefers to sing without electronic support. “I don’t use an amplifier. I don’t need it. I have an operatic range because I have been singing over traffic throughout my whole life,” Dehaven said.
Another musician, Kris Mack, 28, has also been a regular performer at the Lynnwood Shopping Center. Currently he has moved his stage to a sidewalk in front of the Old Country Buffet located in the commercial complex at 196th Street Southwest and Southwest 44th Avenue.
Mack plays an antique accordion. He also writes songs. He said he taught himself how to play the accordion about a year ago after he bought it, then broken, from an antiques shop and fixed it himself.
“I love street performing. I love talking to all these people and playing all these songs. All the songs that I played, I wrote it myself,” said Mack.
These street musicians bring to their performances their own sense of pride. Some people value their music, while others just walk on by.
“I think the xylophone player from Cuba is good,” said Brian Garret, who works in Lynnwood and often visits the Lynnwood Shopping Center. “His play is upbeat and he adds something to the atmosphere to this place. I don’t have a problem with it. I actually enjoy it.”
Another worker at the shopping center who wanted to remain anonymous said he is not interested in their music.
“It’s not anything that I’m particularly into. They just do what they do,” the worker said.
The musicians don’t seem too concerned about public opinion; they are driven by the simple joy of their music.
“The reason that I have been able to do this so long is because I’m doing it for me first,” Dehaven said. “I look at this as a way to make me happy. It’s like a little kid with his toys. … Until I realized who I was, and what I wanted to do with myself, money means nothing. It means nothing.”
Eunbi Cho is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory
Check out some performances on YouTube.