A Guide to NYC Subway Performers

Living in this city, we’re constantly being bombarded with sights and sounds both pleasant and grating. We’re essentially being entertained 24/7. No wonder our attention span is in such a sad state of affairs. Subway performers are a daily distraction most of us take for granted, just another one of those New York things we all just shake our head or ignore. I remember visiting a friend in the city one summer and taking the JMZ to Brooklyn and being amazed by the teenage subway performers doing various acrobatics and somersaults on the train. Granted I was a little tipsy at the time, but I remember thinking to myself, wow this sure beats the homeless guy who plays the recorder on my block.

Whether they’re doing it just for money or for their “art”, all of the performers in the subway are hustlers. You never know what to expect when those train doors open. You ride a train line for long enough you get to know the regulars but once in a while there’s someone new, just waiting to make or break your day. So here’s a quick guide to the performers I’ve grown to love and loathe.

Shakespeare on the Train


Nothing like getting your culture fix during your daily commute. Last week two men dressed in plain clothes started projecting loudly passages from Shakespeare’s Macbeth. At first I didn’t know what they’re were saying and thought it was one of those “improv everywhere” type of acts.  Or just overly ambitious theater students.  It turned out they were promoting their own original play who’s name escapes me (always carry flyers people!) but it was a welcome distraction of the high-brow kind. Bravo gentleman. Plus bonus points for being very attractive, who says Macbeth NEEDS to be portly?

Mariachi Bands


Ah where do I even begin? Pros: bad ass cowboy boots and bolo ties, harmonizing voices, excellent finger picking and acceptable guitar playing. Cons: Repertoire consists of one if maybe two songs, aggressive tipping strategies, monopolizing subway entertainment on the majority of trains. Mariachi bands to me are like the Times Square of subway performers. Beloved by tourists and impossible to avoid.

Barbershop Quartets


I’m a total suckers for these guys. They always have killer voices and stick to the Motown classics. I’ve thought about making some “Wait til the water runs dry requests” but haven’t gotten up the nerve. I only see them in the mornings but they know how to put a good spin on the day. My regular morning pissyness can’t stand up to their highly concentrated dose of cheer.

Opera Singers


There’s plenty of signing in the subway. People are big fans “projecting” especially when it comes to free-styling or signing gospel out loud. To which their own I guess, but I got completely blindsided by this lady in the subway one day. She was dressed up or anything or advertise what she was about to do, she just started breaking out the aria to Carmen on a Saturday afternoon. And this was no amateur for sure. Then after hitting more notes than a Mariah Carey ballad, she collected a few tips and went on her marry way while jaws were still being picked up off the floor. Like I said, in this city, you never know who are the artists among us.

Photo by: C Andrew Flickr, Michael Foley Flickr, Vidiot Flickr

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About the author

Laura S - Spendthrift Scribe

Laura S, left the "sixth borough" three years ago to settle in Brooklyn. After working at some daily rags, she now does writing on the side but still eats more Ramen then necessary. When she's not moving residences every 6 months, eating her way through every neighborhood, and trying every microbrew known to man, she is unsuccessfully rediscovering home economics. With her binging days behind her, she's now exploring new projects and rediscovering the city that she loves (although is still prone to sliding on her knees during a Prince karaoke set).

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