His daily trek starts in a mini storage unit. His trek ends there, too. But, oh the places he goes in-between!
Colin Huggins is a classically trained pianist. He stores several pianos in various Manhattan Mini Storage units around Manhattan. On any give day (but mostly during fair weather), he goes to one of his storage units. He wheels out a dismantled 450-pound grand piano (or sometimes a console piano) that is on a dolly. He pushes it to the elevator and then maneuvers it out into the street where he ‘tries’ to obey the traffic laws. But driving a grand piano can be rather difficult, you know.
Then he walks the piano – or many times chases after it – to his chosen spot for the day where he plays classical music for the passers by. He puts the piano together – attaches the legs, the pedals, the top, and assembles the stool. He then sets out his 5-gallon bucket (for tips) and sits down to play for up to 12 hours at a time.
Sometimes he plays in Union Square. Sometimes at Washington Square Park. Sometimes at Grand Central, 34th street, or Madison Park. He used to play at Father Demo Square until residents in the area “cordially” invited him to stop coming back because of the large crowds that he was attracting. For a while, he even played in the subway. He stopped playing there because he got tired of the stale air and the lack of sunlight.
When he was young, Huggins used to play the guitar because his brother played it. At age 16, he decided to learn how to play the piano. That settled it. The piano was the instrument for him. When he was older and visited Boston, he decided that he wanted to perform piano for ballet. After 6 months of training, he got a job as a ballet accompanist, a job he held for four years.
But, he felt drawn to the street performers that he saw. He loved the eclectic audiences they attracted. After brainstorming with a roommate, they came up with the idea of taking a real, full-sized piano to the streets and perform there. He soon became known as ‘the crazy piano guy.’ The rest, as they say, is history.
Huggins goes out 2-3 days a week. He plays for 12 hours at a time playing all of the songs by memory. (Because it takes such great effort to transport his piano and set it up, he wants to make sure it’s worth his time.) On the other days, he practices and gets ready to record an album.
Transporting pianos, taking them apart, and putting them back together affects how in-tune the piano is. So, Huggins gets a piano tuner to make a ‘house call’ to his storage unit to tune his pianos. While the piano may not sound like those found at Carnegie Hall, it is good enough to mesmerize those on the street who hear him.
If you have empty units in your storage facility, you might want to approach your local street musicians – or other musicians who perform around your city – to see if they would be interested in storing their instruments in your facility. You might be able to make beautiful music together.
“What It’s Like to Play a Grand Piano in a NYC Park Every Day.” The Atlantic; 25 February 2013.
“A Day In The Life Of “The Crazy Piano Guy” Of Washington Square Park.” NYU Local; 18 April 2012.
“Colin Huggins, Street Performer, to Push His Piano to Washington Square Tomorrow.” Village Voice. 3 June 2011.
“’Crazy’ in E flat: Determined piano man Colin Huggins is a hit in subway.” New York Daily News; 7 March 2009.
“The Real Piano Man.” The New York Times; 30 August 2000.