Taking it to the streets: Sharing music and words of love in the age of COVID

Belen Ward
bward@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 1/27/21

A small desk, an antique typewriter and some space on Denver’s 16th Street Mall are the tools Colorado native Devan Kingsford needs to arouse some pretty strong emotions. With a few taps on the …

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Taking it to the streets: Sharing music and words of love in the age of COVID

Posted

A small desk, an antique typewriter and some space on Denver’s 16th Street Mall are the tools Colorado native Devan Kingsford needs to arouse some pretty strong emotions.

With a few taps on the Remington mobile’s keys, he creates unique poetry on demand for strangers passing by.

“I love doing this. I have an English degree, so I’m probably going to end up teaching at some point,” said Kingsford. “But for now, I’m fine just writing poetry for strangers.”

Up the street, Peter Olschner and Kyle Lang are two young street musicians performing soulful jazz tunes and trying to preserve downtown Denver’s rich history of street music.

“We don’t have a band name because we just started jamming together,” said Olschner. “We both love playing music with other people.”

It was a cold January day on the mall and it was bare with masked people enjoying entertainment, restaurants and shopping to escape COVID quarantines. COVID-19 has presented some challenges, especially for performers and musicians. The pandemic took away Lang’s job, sending him to the streets to play.

“I used to teach percussion in public schools around Colorado and after the pandemic shut down extracurricular activities, I was kinda lost for a bit,” he said. “It’s been great getting back into it, though.”

Olschner said the pandemic had a positive impact on playing his music because he was able to still earn an income.

“I would not have discovered my love for busking if I had a traditional gig opportunity. I’ve been able to continue to be a performer despite the situation surrounding the pandemic,” he said.

As for Kingsford, the typewriter poet, the pandemic moved him away from his favorite spot in Larimer Square, but it has not slowed him down. He is still able to find locations to set up his typewriter.

“There was more walking space and, luckily, we have the 16th Street Mall, which is a pedestrian mall which gives you a lot more space. Without that extra space, I probably would not have been able to work. Also, it would not be at a safe distance,” said Kingsford.

Shouting on the street corners

Kingsford is a native of Colorado and received an English degree from Metropolitan State University of Denver. He has been creating poetry for strangers for more than seven years on the streets of Denver and at special events. He does not charge for his poetry but accepts donations.

Kingsford started working as a poet at the Art Walk on Santa Fe Drive in Denver, standing on the street corner with a book of his own poems in his hand, shouting his creations to strangers.

He did that until a woman warned him that he should stop.

“You are gonna get yourself killed — there’s one thing people hate worse than poetry, is when it’s screamed at them by a stranger,” said Kingsford.

She suggested that he get a typewriter to choose a topic and write for strangers.

“I started doing that and never looked back. It’s incredible,” he said.

Crying and hugging

Kingsford’s poetry has touched many hearts with his words, none more than his own — sometimes in ways he has a hard time describing.

“You know, I can’t even imagine as a poet, I should have had a word for it,” said Kingsford.

A few years ago a woman approached him and asked for a poem.

“She was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, and she had six months to live. She wanted me to write her a poem that made her not afraid of death,” said Kingsford. “I wrote her poem. Then we cried together and hugged, and then she left.”

Have Remington, will travel

Why did Kingsford choose an antique Remington typewriter to create his poems?

“I own about 11 typewriters. Three of them are Remington portables because they are incredible,” he said. “It’s like a laptop. It’s small, the fonts are 10 points and I average from three to 16 lines. I only use little quarter sheets of paper to write my poems. So you can fit a lot of words.”

As far as personalizing each poem, Kingsford said he relies on the subject to get him started. Some people offer up their whole life story, others only give non-verbal clues.

“There are other poets who do this, and they have their methods. I don’t like to ask a lot of questions, I don’t want to put words in your mouth or suggestions. I ask people to give me whatever they have at that moment,” said Kingsford.

Kingsford is available at 720-546-9494 or by email at devankingsford@gmail.com to book him for an event or to create a special poem for a loved one.

Street musicians

Olschner plays guitar and Lang plays drums. Both have been playing music since they were children and have been playing together for a short time. Lang loves instrumental math-rock music, and Olschner loves jazz. So the plan is to form a jazz combo and do covers with popular tunes.

Olschner 24, was born and raised in Arvada. He attended Pomona High School in Arvada, learning choir and musical theater. Olschner went to Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, and studied philosophy and music.

He has been playing guitar since he was 16 years old and mostly earns income full time as a street performer in Denver and Boulder — supplemented by walking his brother’s dog for extra income.

Kyle Lang, 21, was adopted from Korea and grew up in Westminster. He is studying psychology at Front Range Community College and was a music major at Metropolitan State University. He’s been playing drums for 12 years, which supplements his regular paycheck from NAPA Auto Parts in Boulder.

Expressions and Guitar Hero

Lang was inspired to play drums to express himself.

“It’s another way for me to speak, and it gives me a creative outlet to express myself,” said Lang.

Olschner was inspired to play guitar by a music computer game.

“I grew up playing the game Guitar Hero 3 and I loved the soundtrack so much,” Olschner said. “I realized that I could play the songs on a real guitar if I practiced enough. When I was a sophomore in high school, my friend sold me his acoustic guitar with a buzzy string for $20, and I haven’t looked back since.”

He’d like to open a private lesson studio teaching students music theory and guitar techniques.

“I am working towards producing original music, music videos, and educational videos for the internet as another source of income down the line,” said Olschner.

Lang’s short-term goal is to finish his degree at Colorado State University. After graduation, he plans to start a career in counseling.

“My long-term goal is buying a Honda Civic type R,” said Lang.

Mall music

Olschner enjoys performing his music for people on the 16th Street Mall and the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder. The practice has developed him into an experienced performer.

“The people are very generous with their tips when they are enjoying the music. I love making cash tips, because it allows me to pay for my rent and my groceries as I continue to develop my career as a professional musician,” said Olschner.

Lang enjoys playing at the mall for a variety of people.

“Music always brings people together... I love the crowd, and I love being able to share my craft with others,” Lang said.

Lang and Olschner’s plans are to play Sunday jazz night at Dazzle in downtown Denver. You can watch the Lang and Olschner on tiktok with username @cattrumpets.

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