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I don’t have to go back too far for a musical performance that isn’t ever going to leave me. In June of last year I was walking downtown on the river with my girlfriend Saleta and her brothers. We could hear the bagpipes that — if you’ve been in San Antonio for a while — you know are a ubiquitous fixture downtown.
Rusty Hoke is probably San Antonio’s only consistently working street musician, and he has spent the better part of the last couple of decades serenading downtowners and tourists with his bagpipes. He sets up in the same spot and plays fearlessly and courageously. Having played to horribly drunk tourists on the river myself, I admire his staunch courage, his indomitability.
Just about any instrument can get you hated when you’re dealing with sweaty tourists, but it seems that the bagpipes get their own special share of collective detest. Rusty not only surmounts these problems, he clearly has fun doing so. On this particular warm evening, he was playing with a partner, Michael, a young guy with a lot of talent.
In his humble way, Rusty indicated that Michael was a much better piper and urged him to play some really difficult pieces. Michael proceeded to do what guitarists call “shredding,” which is a good thing. He played really fast, really loud. He was playing traditional Scottish music, but he finished with AC/DC’s “Hells Bells.”
This is where it became one of those poignant evenings. Rusty, bags under his arms, did the most outlandish, herky-jerky interpretive dance I’ve seen. Tourists stopped to stare. Rusty started high kicking like David Lee Roth with rabies and then convulsed like he was at a prayer meeting. I cried with laughter, joy at seeing this shit actually happening.
Rusty is so obviously uninhibited, so silly that it’s almost scary. The man is a phenomenal performer, and my life is just a wee bit richer for having witnessed him go completely nuts in public.
Erik Sanden sings and plays guitar for the art-pop quartet Buttercup.
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