Get off your phone and you may just catch something unforgettable …

If you had more money, you would go see more concerts, right? Well, no need to wait. There are freebies all around us.

On any given day down on the 16th Street Mall in Denver, a world class musician might give thousands of passersby a fleeting, 10-second concert. For this block-long reprieve from the hustle and bustle, an occasional listener will throw a dollar or two. It's entertainment worth far more than its everyday street value. 

Get off your phone and pay attention to your surroundings; you may just catch something unforgettable.

Rich Underhill, Galen Weston Band saxophonist

“This is actually an exclusive for you, I’m here for one day only from Toronto," saxophonist Rich Underhill says after wrapping up a rendition of The Girl from Ipanema. "We’re opening up for the Gipsy Kings tonight, and they didn’t want me practicing in the dressing room, so I came out here.”

Thirty years ago, Underhill took up the sax in high school and continued to play through college. And though he's a professional musician, he still enjoys giving street shows. “Even a homeless guy threw me a quarter — at least he looked homeless — and I hated to take his money, but I loved seeing the joy on his face.”

Gerald, true punk drummer

Gerald started with music 21 years ago. “Playing drums at church, it was a music service thing," he says while meticulously adjusting his upcycled buckets. "I get the buckets wherever I can find them, dumpsters and such. I’m homeless, but this keeps me fed. Pretty well, actually. I’ve been in a bunch of bands and toured, the last one was Turbo Snail. I like everything, a lot of folk, a lot of punk. I’ve been a fan of punk since I was a really small kid. Music is all I have, besides her [his girlfriend]. Keeps me sane.”

Richard Backes, violin builder and instrument repairman

“I make and fix violins out of my living room," says Backes, who specializes in contra dance. "I started playing cello five years ago, when someone gave me this one. The top was split, and the guy who gave it to me didn’t really like it, so I fixed it. Compared to violin, the strings are the same, but the bowing is backwards. Contra dance music happens a lot in the northeast, New Hampshire, where I’m from.”

Asked if he moved west to play in the street, Backes replies with a grin. “Actually, yeah. The audience is really different. People just walk by you and you have to work to catch their attention for more than ten seconds.”

Bret Dallas, six strings in the streets

“I’ve been playing since I was 15,” says the one-man band with a mohawk and loop-pedal. "I picked it up in military school. Every cadet was allowed one personal item, one had a boom box, and I took my guitar. It was an Army-ROTC program. I never did combat or anything glorious, but this was a great way to break the military routine. I got started with the shredders, but it got old fast. Too easy to master. After that I got into jazz … very intelligent music. I call what I do a mix of jazz, blues, and metal.

Ten years ago, Dallas “was living in Boulder, but it was a bad place," he adds. "Actually, I was living right across from your office, but my move to Colorado was rough. I was depressed. I was very depressed. I had to play it out, but playing in my room didn’t do it, so I took my guitar out to the Boulder Creek Crossing and started playing. I was playing and crying, just playing and crying, and when I opened my eyes, I saw all this money. … Now I use this to pay my bills in part and I’m fucking serious about this.”

Matt Kamp, multi-instrumentalist

“I started playing down here in July," Kamp says, pinned between a saxophone and a bass drum. "But I’ve been doing this set up for a week. It’s so much fun to do it like this.

"I’ve been playing sax for 12 years. In school, they told me to learn clarinet before I learned sax, so I did. I went to Berkley in Boston, and four of us moved out here from there. Playing in the street, it’s great. It’s a lot of fun when you see you caught someone’s attention. You get strange people out here all the time, people who are off their medication, but those are the ones who stick around.”

The Brothers of Brass, southern funk and jazz

“There’s five of us who play whenever we can," said tubist Khalil Simon, who plays with his friends Darnell Evans on drums and David Williams on trumpet. "Sometimes, we leave and go back to school. I’m moving here this week and David’s leaving for the Marines.  

“I’ve been playing brass for eight years, in school I play euphonium. Being from New Orleans, music is a part of everything, but it was something I picked up in high school and ended up being my major. Out here, people are more responsive to the music, because back home, there’s a brass band on every corner. I’ve played all over, but here, California, and New York Times Square, those are the best to play.”