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Faces of Capitol Hill | Joe the street drummer

(Images: Tim Durkan for CHS)

(Images: Tim Durkan for CHS)

I was made aware of police responding to a disturbance at 10th and E Pike Monday night and decided to to get a closer look for myself. One never knows what kinds of photo ops lurk in Capitol Hill’s famed nightlife area.

As I arrived at the the corner nearest Poquitos, I listened to a street musician playing his homemade drum kit before a small but appreciative crowd. I recognized him from some photos I took last summer but had never had the occasion to introduce myself until now. Given CHS’s recent discussions around street drumming, it was a good time to say hello.

35 years old and originally from Rhode Island, Joe has been living in Seattle for about 13 years but has been homeless for the last several. He says that SPD had just paid him a (polite) visit to report a neighbor’s complaint and asked that he finish up by 10 PM. “I’m reliant upon the income I make from playing here 6 nights a week and the 10 PM to 2 AM hours are really the best,” he said. “It’s unfortunate.”DSC_5968-Edit

I asked how long he’d been playing drums here or if he’d had any problems in the past.
“I’ve been playing here since August and love the vibe. Weekends are the usually best, especially once the bars began to clear out around 1:30 — that’s when the money starts,” he said with a big, happy grin. “It was only recently, though, that someone started calling the cops.”

“I know all the officers up at the East Precinct and think they are great — they care about the people out here and I respect them a lot. They enjoy what I do and tell me so. It’s funny, people just want to control their environment — and in a town where Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana got started? This town is as much about rock and roll as it is about Starbucks and Microsoft.”

Joe also plays the harmonica and a small keyboard at his side. When the energy is just right, he says people spontaneously break into dance and sing along. Other musicians have been known to join in to enhance the energy. He credits his gurus and local musicians Ricky Lynn Johnson and Rick Rude for helping him develop his talents. “It’s because of them,” he says, he now feels confident in sharing those talents with the world.

Still though, the reality of being homeless can be very tough. “It’s hard being on the streets moving from place to place with all this gear. And it’s tough trying to play when drunk or obnoxious people are trying to ruin my show. Once, I even had a lady come at me with a baseball bat a a couple months ago. I’ve struggled a lot out here, but I think it’s also part of becoming an artist — it makes you humble. Sometimes people come up to me without any money but really like what I am doing and say thank you — that means even more to me.”

Joe admits that his past drug use has contributed to his current situation on the streets but says he’s been on the treatment medication Suboxone for a couple years in order to help him kick both heroin and methadone. “I’m going to ween myself off of this too and get off these streets. That’s the plan because being on the streets especially during winters is killing me.”

A car pulls up and a woman gets out to greet him with a hug and smile. It’s his ex-wife with their 7 year old daughter who is hoping dad can come over for a quick hug and a kiss. His face lights up as he dashes over to the waiting car. He returns after a few moments, clearly touched, and explains that he is very lucky to have his ex still in his life. “We’re all really good friends, even my child’s stepdad is a great guy. It takes a load off my mind knowing my daughter is in good hands with them.”DSC_5969-Edit

I ask Joe if he has any advice. “Do what you have to do to stay off or get off the streets, really. Stay in school and get a job because being dumb won’t impress me or anyone else. If it’s a good musician you want to become then just do it. Nobody starts off being great. You got to have the passion and drive and be willing to practice 10 hours every day. If your’e not any good after 6 months, it might be time to try something else. That’s what it took for me.”

“I wish that I had found art and music earlier in my life, that I had started drumming sooner,” Joe said. “I’d like this passion of mine to help get me off the streets and into my own (music) studio where I could record and help others do the same. Drumming supports me right now and helps my child — maybe not a lot but even being able to afford a pair of shoes for her is a good thing. Music is my reason to get up every morning and I enjoy doing it — entertaining people. It gives be a sense of pride even though I’m on the streets — it’s my everything.”

Unless the complaints shut him down, you can catch Joe’s performances almost nightly and especially on the weekends in the Pike/Pine corridor near the Comet Tavern.

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101 thoughts on “Faces of Capitol Hill | Joe the street drummer

  1. i wish he had started drumming earlier in life too. because he sucks. he’s missing…what do the kids call it?…BEAT. it’s about 1.5 bars of one beat, then random banging, followed by…something else random. i have to tolerate this during the daytime and it’s pretty awful.

    having said that he sucks – which he does and everyone who hears him clearly knows how bad he sucks, and how we all hate his crap bucket banging during what would otherwise be a tolerable place to walk – i do hope he gets off the streets and spend some time with his daughter.

    i’m not completely heartless. i just want him to shut the fuck up and leave.

    • I’m not playing to upset anyone I play cause I love it I make a lot of people happy with my music unfortunately I piss a lot of people off and I’m sorry for u I understand it can b aggravating but I’m trying to bring musicians on the streets together

      • It doesn’t matter whether you are trying to upset anyone or not. Your noise is a huge nuisance to people who live nearby when you play on the street or in the park. You do not make a lot of people happy. They are humoring you. Bring together street musicians downtown or somewhere that is now highly residential. The community has spoken: your drumming is not wanted and does not make the neighborhood a better place.

      • Actually, Joe’s on beat and has rhythm, albeit maybe something too complicated to understand for anyone on their way out of Havana on a Friday night.

        Trolling a fellow human you know little about, in a slightly vulnerable place, on the margins of society, just trying to do what he knows and scratch at his piece of the pie — you’re in worse places my friends. Keep chasing your dreams and humanity. Hope you find it.

        Yes! As someone who lives and works here, your fellow residents do stand with you, Joe. Fuck the fascists.

  2. He plays during the day too and we have to listen all day long. Good for his recovery, but maybe he needs to move around to different blocks and share all that good music with other people. Share the love.

  3. He says “people just want to control their environment.” No, Joe, that’s not it….people have a right to require others to have a modicum of civility and not engage in activities late at night which keep people awake, when they have to get up and go to work the next morning.

    I hope you’re successful in getting off the drugs permanently, because not only will that be good for you and your family, but it will be good for those in the area who are fed up with your noise.

    • Exactly. It’s like, I live in a modest castle. I can listen to a transistor radio, which I am lucky to own. I can choose to listen to King FM, or Rush Limbaugh, or a station that recycles 50 of my favorite Classic Rock songs in and endless loop. But Joe, who calls me a fascist, insists that I listen to his lousy self-decreed-artistic static with the volume turned all the way up. If I don’t like it, I am free to leave. I am thinking of moving to Rhode Island.

  4. I have compassion for people who struggle with addiction, I do. But, one of things about addiction is that it tends to make people very self-centered. Banging on plastic and making a lot of racket on a city street at all hours of the day and night is very self-centered. I’m sure lots of us want to see this guy get his life together but I don’t see how being a public nuisance is part of that plan.

      • Yeah, I got that piece about it being his income. His need to make money shouldn’t trump the complaints of the people who live and work in the neighborhood and can’t stand the noise pollution. Maybe I should take my tambourine and kazoo and go stand near where he sleeps every night to get my creativity on and make some cash.

      • Pike Place Market requires performers to have buskers license (or something like that). But it’s a privately owned place. Streets in general aren’t.

        I’m totally anti-noise pollution. And I think if rules are being violated they should be enforced. Not all rules are enforced of course (all you jaywalkers and speeders and white-collar criminals out there).

        Do the people in the neighborhood also complain about the continuing problem of homelessness and addiction? Where is the outrage over those issues?

        On a practical level, noise pollution sucks. And no, he’s not making a statement about homelessness and addiction through banging on his homemade drums. But it is a reminder that not all people with problems are silent.

        I wish he were talented enough he could be in a band or something. Street drummers in rush hour downtown seem to be pretty good.

        In general I find the rich to be more annoying than the poor.

      • “Do the people in the neighborhood also complain about the continuing problem of homelessness and addiction?”
        Capitol Hill has tons of social services. Your point is that the community has to put up with this because there are addicts and homeless people? Many of the people disturbed by this may be addicts and the poor too. Right?

        “Where is the outrage over those issues?”
        I am supposed to call 911 because someone is homeless or an addict?

        “And no, he’s not making a statement about homelessness and addiction through banging on his homemade drums. But it is a reminder that not all people with problems are silent.”
        I have problems. Give me your address and I’ll scream in front of your apartment 18 hours a day about it. Better yet, I will send Joe over in a cab so he can do it. How about that?

      • You are spot on regarding your comment about people being self centered. Joe, you are a thirty five year old man, you have a child and you make a living banging on plastic buckets and you feel proud? You are not an artist and are not a musician. You are a loser.
        He also sets up in Cal Anderson. I overheard a man with two young children pointing out (rightfully so) that the banging was disturbing to the children playing nearby. He told him to f off. Joe is not nice, and not respectful to the community.

      • I’ve known Joe for about 7 years and he’s much more than a homeless drug addict who can’t play the drums. He’s an amazing tattoo artist and an amazing dad, yeah he’s on the street and is lucky if he can afford a pair of shoes for his daughter…but he’s actually buying shoes for his daughter, it’s not just going up his arm! Only a few years ago he wasn’t on the street and that little girl was glued to her daddy’s side! Everybody goes thru shit but usually behinds closed doors; not on the street for the whole world to judge. If you’re tired of Joes drumming ask him for a tattoo, I’ve got a great set of dragon wings that he did. And Joe, I guess you need to broaden your drumming area so someone doesn’t come after you with a baseball bat again

      • If Joe is such an amazing tattoo “artist,” why isn’t he working as that, instead of mass-annoying people on the street with his noise?

    • I have lived on the hill for 15 years and have lived in my current apartment for 10. I am supposed to move to the suburbs because a homeless man decided in August he could support himself by banging on plastic, empty liquor bottles and cymbals 18 hours a day on the sidewalk next to my apartment ?
      Hey Nick, post your address and I’ll give him cab fare so he can play in front of your place, ka?

      • Sure la. 23rd and Union. I’ll trade you the single homeless bucket drummer for all of the gang bangers who empty entire clips in front of my apartment, break into cars, rob my neighbors at gunpoint, and sell drugs on the corner. So all of that for your bucket drummer, Fair trade?

    • Nick, your knee-jerk reply is offensive, and (I hope) a minority opinion. Just because someone advocates against the antisocial/rude behaviors of some street people doesn’t make them out-of-line. Instead of fleeing to the suburbs, they are trying to make things better here in our neighborhood, at the very least by commenting on such behaviors.

      Keep calling the police. It’s the only way Joe will be held accountable.

  5. Pingback: Faces of Capitol Hill | Joe the street drummer - Street I Am

  6. So does Joe have a plan on bucket drumming on that corner forever despite knowing that it is disturbing to hundreds of people who reside nearby? He says it’s how he pays the bills. If I could make a living yelling in his ear while he was trying to sleep would that be okay with him? Does he even look for an actual job? How does he feel about the people he disturbs when he plays at 4am or starts up at 7am on a Saturday morning right under someone’s window. Oh, I already know because I asked him one morning when he started up at 7am directly under my apartment. He said “well then move”. I have been living in that apartment for 10 years and lived on the hill for 15.

  7. Hey drummer, you’re cute and good looking. The streets will take that away from you. Do in your best to find a occupation or schooling to get skills. Get out of this. Stop your addiction. Life has plenty to offer to cute people like you. You just got to drop the drum sticks and reach before the hard life makes you look hard. My two cents in your drum bucket. Do it. Stop drumming about it.

  8. Here are a few questions for Joe:
    1) are you actively looking for a job’
    2) how do you feel knowing you are intruding on other people and creating hostility?
    3) when you play in Cal Anderson do you ever look around and ask yourself if these people really want to hear you?
    4) Do you ever ask the people enjoying the park how they feel about your drumming? Do you care?
    5) If someone took a poll and it showed 99% of park goers or those in the vicinity you play in didn’t want to hear you, would you stop?
    6) Has it ever occurred to you that people go to the park to avoid the kind of noise you create?
    7) When you play at 3am or next to someone’s home at 7am on the weekends do you think about how this negatively effects other people?

    • Hi this is Max, I mean Joe. I’m happy to answer your questions because I have high speed internet. Whoops a rat is eating my ethern

    • Sandra:

      1. Did you know that it is not possible to get a job when you live on the streets and don’t have an address and are a recovering addict?
      2. Do you care that questions 4, 5, and 6 basically restate question 3 and that people find redundancy on message boards annoying?

    • To your list I would add: Are you currently clean and sober? (somehow, I doubt it). Do you use your tips from drumming to fuel your drug addiction?

      • If he is taking what he says he’s trying to quit drugs with a medicine. I don’t know if taking that requires not doing the original drug or being tested. But in general people have freedom to spend their earned money how they want. That includes spending an Amazon salary on booze and on tipping street drummers.

  9. Bucket drums are noise pollution. If someone is blasting a radio that is as loud as the drums while sitting on the street they’d be told be the police to stop. Joe needs to get a life. Banging on buckets 18 hours a day when you are homeless 35 year old with a young child is pathetic. It’s been 7 months of this crap. Move on.

  10. Saw this Joe dude last night banging on those things. Definitely not the guy from Whiplash that’s for sure. If I lived around where he sets up, I would lose my mind.

    • I wasn’t the only one playing Saturday night if your gonna lie then keep your bs to yourself I had a bunch of talented musicians playing with me on Saturday witch is the big gist reason I’m out here

  11. I wish the interviewer had asked Joe what his response is when people at Cal Anderson ask him to stop. Joe is not very nice. Is there a reason why one person’s right to bang on things in public trumps the vast majority of people who can’t enjoy the park because he bangs on buckets, empty bottles, and cymbals for hours on end every single day in the summer. Is this really fair to everyone else?
    p.s- Joe has been playing in Cal Anderson and disturbing people way before August. How about asking park goers and neighbors what they think of that? Is there a reason radios are banned but drums aren’t?

  12. Joe needs to get a life. He’s a father approaching middle age and he thinks he’s found a noble way to make a living by banging on crap in public places. The fact that 2% of those who pass by think it’s great makes him think he is on to something. I’m sure those 2% would think it was less great if they lived across the street.

  13. OK u people r just haters u don’t want me to play in the park or the street no need to insult my drumming skills weather u like it or not I’m sorry I piss the majority of the people off but I love what I do and I’m gonna keep doing it now that I know most of u r just idiots who deserve to b pissed off u make me out to b someone I’m not I pick the places I play cause their r hardly any people living their u all r destroying what made the hill great u all need to shut up and move on

    • Damn straight, Joe! I for one hate all the condos and rich people trying to make the hill into something it’s not, we used to have character, now all we have are rich assholes trying to make this the suburbs. Newsflash: if you live in the city there’s going to be noise, I like the grungeyness of the city that’s why I live here.

      • Let me hazard a guess, Christina: You are not one of the people who are kept awake at night by Joe’s drumming. News flash: unacceptable noise is not inevitable in a city, nor should it be tolerated. You are enabling Joe to continue his obnoxious behavior.

      • It was also mentioned that Joe does his drumming by Comet Tavern. Taverns are also very loud but apparently all the noise from the tavern and other bars isn’t a problem, just the the homeless guy banging on plastic bins. I bet Bob here would have a problem with Joe no matter where he drums. Joe drums in Cal Anderson park,that’s not disturbing to people trying to sleep, but most of you seem to have a problem with that too, just because Joe’s in an unfortunate position that doesn’t mean that his freedom to be happy is less important than anyone else.

      • “Joe drums in Cal Anderson park,that’s not disturbing to people trying to sleep, but most of you seem to have a problem with that too”

        There are apartments and condos on *every* side of Cal Anderson Park. That park is not so large that the people trying to sleep can’t hear drums.

    • Joe, I’ve walked by you in the past, and I haven’t paid much attention. But I will offer you payment next time I see you. Please keep up the good work.

  14. Keep the faith, Joe. Don’t let these negative comments get you down.

    You can’t live in the Pike/Pine corridor and complain about stuff like this. No matter where you choose to live there’s a trade off – that’s just reality.

    If people really wanted Joe to move on, they’d support him in his journey. He’s not out there because he loves it, he’s out there because he NEEDS to be or he dies. So give what you can, share what you’re able and maybe help a neighbor who’s fighting the exact same fight we all are – to live another day. Heck, if the 5-10 people who wanted him to leave chipped in and paid him to do so, everyone’s problem would be solved. But instead they’d rather launch anger and rage at someone who has so much less than they do already. Pathetic.

    • I’ve lived at the Pike/Pine corridor for 15 years and am not leaving due to someone who bangs on plastic buckets who showed by 7 months ago. I am not paying you to leave and neither should anyone else. That is extortion.

      • I’m not gonna leave eat her I use to sell my paintings on the hill way before I started drumming I’m an artist and most artist r very missunderstod

    • Thank u for the positive support I do what I do for the love of music and seattle culture I play on the hill cause I love the vibe and people who actually can enjoy and appreciate what I’m doing to all of u thank u so much for your love and support to u haters I’m sorry for u I understand where your coming from but anywhere I go I’m gonna piss people off I’ll move around more but u can always expect me on the weekends all the fights and mugging going on I should b the least of your worries I wanna work with the community not against it

  15. I’ve walked by Joe many times over the course of the last several months–what he does has never once bothered me. Or actually made me look twice.

    I’ve lived on the hill for 4 years and have watched it change. But one thing that hasn’t changed, though, is there is always someone like Joe, busking using whatever instruments they’ve got.

    I’ve come to accept it as part of living on the Hill. I chose to live in the heart of the city, with all of its noise and character. A lot of that noise and character are harmless. If I wanted a quiet, sanitized neighborhood, I’d move to Madison Park or Phinney Ridge.

  16. Obviously the solution to all of this is for Joe to get some actual drumming lessons, because what I’ve heard while in proximity is not even a step up from my spontaneous pre-teen kitchen “practices.” Some semblance of talent or skill would arguably reduce the need to rely on the late-night inebriated.

    • Why don’t u come show me how to play then I would love to learn keep in mind I’m not the only assholes drumming in the area

  17. At least I have the balls to do what I love ta do all this shit talking is a reflection of how u all hate your own life’s and take it out on. Some poor homeless guy struggling to survive in an honest way you all should b very ashamed of your self I feel sorry for all of u

  18. Seriously folks, he is a nice enough guy but an absolute menace to my family’s well-being. We deal just fine (& expect) regular street noise – the bar crowds, sirens, etc. However, when he is drumming the same beat over & over for hours, sometimes right under our windows on Pine, it is unbearable. It either keeps our kids (aged 1 & 6) up, or worse, wakes them when he moves in to hit those lucrative bar crowds at 1AM. And it’s LOUD, much louder than the regular street noise. I just wish he’d respect the noise ordinance limits (don’t play in the middle of the damn night) & maybe look UP – those are apartments above your head man, with kids & seniors & working folk inside. Be courteous!

  19. joe,

    consider going to the union gospel mission in pioneer square and getting your life together. when i volunteer there, the people who drive the cars to feed the homeless used to be homeless themselves. they are getting their back and it’s inspiring. you may find it helpful too.

    in the meantime, i find your bucket banging the most annoying thing i’ve dealt with on the hill in 9 years. please, stop.


    your neighbors who live and work near you. who need to be able to focus on their jobs so they can feed their family. who need sleep so they can go to work to put food on the table.

  20. Joe keep doing what u do all these yuppies dont realize they bought an apt on one of the loudest favorite party an liberal spots in american an just trying to take over like they do when u got haters mean ur shit must sound good or they wouldn’t take the time to bitch an sandra dose not have a clue how to like people look how judgemental she is……sad

  21. Kelz, we are not yuppies & sure as hell didn’t buy here. We are a young working family in low-income housing – which yes, is right on Pine. We would love to live somewhere else, believe me! But the general street noise is ok and not what we’re talking about – even other buskers playing guitar and such don’t resonate like drums and cymbals. You try sleeping with drumming under your window, or watching a movie (still can’t hear dialogue with tv at max volume, it’s THAT loud). I’m not asking him to stop, just not to do it after 10pm at night. PLEASE. So we can all go to work & school having slept. That’s all.

    • And we’ve lived here on the hill in this area for over a decade – so we aren’t “new” here. The drumming at night IS, & started last summer (August maybe?). Historically buskers have followed the noise laws, at least on our block.

      • Their is a kid who played a hand drum as well he plays the same horrible beat over and over r u sure it’s not him I think I’m catching all this negativity because of him he’s short with a beard and a really bad attitude

      • Keep in mind im not the only drummer Their is a kid who played a hand drum as well he plays the same horrible beat over and over r u sure it’s not him I think I’m catching all this negativity because of him he’s short with a beard and a really bad attitude

  22. Joe, as I said I know you aren’t a bad guy – and I’m sure you’re pretty bummed about the negative responses here. I don’t think it is your intention to be disruptive, quite the opposite. Let me be the first to propose that you come over, meet me, my husband & kids – & have a friend drumming your kit outside. I know you’ll be horrified of what it sounds like, & you’ll realize we aren’t complaining for the sake of it. You won’t be able to have a proper conversation without raised voices. You’ll realize that the sound is amplified by all the brick & concrete and that it sounds like you are drumming in our living room. And I know that once you experience it for yourself, and meet one of the families trying to live with it, you’ll move your kit to a less residential area. :)

      • Thanks Neighbor! But seriously Joe, the invite stands. I’ll even throw in a meal with my family if you agree to test out what the drumming sounds like in our little apartment vs other buskers, street noise, etc. My husband is also an artist, & our kids are fun – granted, I’m biased haha- but I think you’ll find us good folk that don’t mean you harm. We just want our kids to sleep, us too. Thank you! If you want to take us up on the offer just reply as such & Ill come down & introduce myself. :)

      • Sure but I’ve been afraid to eat anything people give me now a days no offense not sure what extent people will go to shut me up I’m not trying to piss people off but unfortunately it’s something every drummer deals with I just love to play I’m homeless and I have no where else to play I suffer from extreme anxiety drumming calms me I can’t help but play I never had a problem playing in this area until a couple months ago I’m still learning but I’m truly sorry it’s so upsetting to so many of u but I also inspire so many others

  23. I figured out how to muffle my drums I will tone them down after 10 o clock so they r no louder then the club noise come pay me a visit tonight and let me know what u think instead of just bothering the police I’m truly Sorry I upset so many of u I want to inspire and entertain people not piss them off I like playing on the hill it’s my home as well I just don’t want negative energy so please accept my apology but a lot of u should b ashamed of yourself for trying to put me down with lies and just pure hate but I do understand

    • Awesome Joe, thank you!!! We’ll let you know how it works. I’m also sorry people are being harsh to you, but you have to understand how frustrating it can be. Imagine if you had a baby that you *finally* got to sleep but was woken by loud drumming at 1am? Or my neighbor, going through chemo, just trying to watch his “programs” on BBC but can’t hear the tv? It does bring out the worst in people, & I’m sorry for that. I’m really glad you are receptive to our noise issues though, thank you!!

  24. I’ve become acquainted with Joe’s rhythm-less “drumming,” and seen him getting much of joy out of telling people off for no good reason, when I have been trying to enjoy meditative walks through Cal Anderson. It’s almost as if Joe is purposely baiting people into confrontations. I don’t care to visit that park anymore, specifically because of Joe’s drumming and mistreatment of parkgoers.

    You sir, are no Sheila E. And I mean that in terms of both talent and social grace.

  25. Don’t let people destroy the capital hill night life it’s what makes the hill great and I’m as much a part of that as anything else

  26. OK homeless people r as much a part of the capital hill community as anyone else where not all just horrible people with drug problems most of us r just poor people trying to survive day by day and I’m not gonna sit in silence holding a sign or beg I’m gonna sing and bang on rich people’s waste I’ll b the voice for those who have no choice but to beg you can’t just push us off the hill or use the s.p.d as your own personal security guards I think I can speak for us all on that one