MBTA Performers Make a Living Playing Taylor Swift Songs on Violins for Riders
Two former Berkelee College of Music students have made a fulltime job out of playing contemporary music on their violins for the swarms of passengers that crowd the platforms of the MBTA each day.
After meeting in 2009 outside of the school, violinists Rhett Price and Josh Knowles got together and decided to form a two-piece ensemble and perform songs while standing on the Boston Common. But when winter got too cold and their fingers “started to get stiff,” Price says the pair turned to the T for a busker’s permit so they could share their songs with riders traveling on the underground transit system.
“It’s been amazing. I was really nervous at first—we were nervous about playing on the T in general, and we didn’t think any one would give us any money. But there are people who come up and [request songs],” says Price. “This is what we do right now to pay bills. We have met a lot of cool people that see us playing and are interested in what we are doing. It’s a fun thing for us to do.”
Price and his now-roommate, Knowles, have been so successful with their underground performances that it has allowed them to dedicate all of their time to the platform appearances, generating enough income during their four-days-a-week schedule to keep them living amply. On the side, both Price and Knowles practice with their own respective bands, but the violinist pairing has also led to them booking shows for Boston area events.
Price says they recently played songs, which are usually anything from Adele covers to Led Zeppelin pieces, for a crowd at the Institute of Contemporary Art, and they have a gala performance slated for May. Price says a lot of riders even reach out to them and try to book the duo for private weddings and functions. “The amount of people asking us to play at weddings is pretty insane. I guess it’s because there aren’t a lot of string players out there that play what we play. But a lot of people have contacted us for various things like that. It seems to be the artsy and creative minded people that we end up gravitating towards,” he says.
Recently, Price and Knowles solicited the help of a local videographer to capture one of their cover songs, Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble,” while at one of their spots along the MBTA. In just a few days, the video brought in thousands of hits on YouTube, much to Price’s surprise.
Price says he and Knowles play at three stops throughout the week, including North and South Stations, and at the Harvard Square stop. In a few weeks, they’re kicking the public transportation appearance up a notch, and will travel to New York City to play for riders there. “Our long term plans are with our bands but you never know what happens. But we will definitely keep on playing together,” says Price. “I think the coolest thing about this whole process is that we have learned a lot about [the industry]. The coolest and most beneficial thing, too, is we are not only playing together and arranging new songs, but also we get to get up early in the morning everyday and perform.”