One evening, when I was playing on 16th Mall Street, which is the most visited street in the downtown Denver area, a fellow street artist came up to me and recommended me going to Aspen. She told me that she had performed there and that it was a town filled with rich people – “one percenters”, as they are called in the US, as they are part of the richest one percent of the entire world population – and that they had no problem throwing in large dollar bills. By this time I had made enough money and was excited to travel around Colorado to see what it had to offer in terms of natural scenery. I decided to take the AmTrak train to Aspen; a six hour train trip right through the mountains and a tremendously beautiful route.
Once I had arrived there I immediately understood what my colleague meant: this charming town up high in the mountains was indeed a town packed with rich people, ski resorts, expensive hotels and outdoor events. During summer, an annual classical music fest is held. I was anxious to see how people would respond to me here so that same night I unpacked my violin and played through my entire repertoire just once. The girl who approached me on the streets in Denver turned out to be right and some people indeed threw in 5$, 20$ or even 50€ bills without any hesitation. Interestingly enough it turned out to be nearly always elderly people or relatively young parents who tip the most. In Denver I had had donations from people below thirty, and quite a lot actually, but not in Aspen. It didn’t surprise me that in Aspen I was tipped only twice in the entirety of my seven day stay by someone between the ages of eighteen and thirty. Perhaps it’s their rich snobiness (an atmosphere very palpable in Aspen) that make them feel as if they’re too good to tip mere street musicians? That answer I don’t have, but it did strike me as surprising. It didn’t stop me from making plenty of money though, and it was a load off my mind that I was financially secure enough to survive in a place like Aspen, where prices are even higher than in Denver. A basic dinner will cost you anywhere between 17$ and 30$, depending on what kind of dish you order. Luckily for me there was also a supermarket with regular prices! On weekend days – especially the Aspen Farmers’ Market which occurs every Saturday – my hourly rate was as high as 75$. It felt as if my gamble (trusting a random stranger to go to Aspen because they supposedly love street artists) had paid off and I allowed myself three days off to explore the area and all its hiking trails properly.
Just like in Denver and the Netherlands: kids in Aspen too are interested in what I do, always. I met a great deal of parents who were interested in showing their children a live street musician and although Aspen feels much colder socially, the many conversations that I did have with Aspenites or out-of-state visitors were remarkable and I learned a great deal from them. Even on regular week days I had enough pedestrians checking out what I was doing and why. Especially the “why” question was one I got in probably every conversation. They all wished me luck in fulfilling my dreams and most of them were happy to support me financially.
Even though the atmosphere of money is all-encompassing in Aspen, I don’t believe the same generosity could easily be seen in the Netherlands, or any other European country for that matter. The woman who apologised for not having dollars and subsequently gave me a 50€ bill is someone who I’ll remember, just like the young couple (father being a trumpeter) and their five children or the older lady who sat and listened for probably an hour. As a street musician in the US I’ve experienced fantastic things which were always paired with typical American interest, generosity and even thankfulness.