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David Johnston Can’t Forget His Roots Playing On The Street

You’re rushing through the city streets, maybe late for an appointment, distracted by your life’s many obligations, and you blow right past a street musician, hard at work. And you stop. And you listen. And you enter the moment and think, ‘Wow, this guy can really play.’

David Johnston is a regular fixture in Harvard Square. You can find him on just about any sunny afternoon with his old Gibson guitar, his signature black jeans, black hat and a white bucket to catch the dollar bills — playing in the park opposite Grendel’s Den. And he’s been doing this for years.

“I just go my 13th permit today, this morning, I started in ’99 doing this,” Johnston said.

Johnston also plays in bars and clubs around town, usually with some of the city’s best musicians, who hold him in very high regard. Players like Duke Levine, John Sands and Marty Ballou — even Peter Wolf, who covered one of Johnston’s songs on his last CD. But Johnston always comes back to the street.

“What I do has been shaped by the streets,” Johnston said. “I played in bands since I was a kid, but he idea of playing solo, by myself was kind of scary…I can do whatever I want because they’re not really listening to me. But that changed. And I remember the first time I drew a crowd…it’s like a gig.”

More than one music writer around town have referred to Johnston as one of Boston’s best kept secrets of the local music scene. Now he’s just released a new CD: “Carnival of the Soul” is his first in almost 10 years and features Marty Ballou on upright bass, John Sands, who tours with Amie Mann, on drums and Johnston on guitar and vocals.

Guests:

  • David Johnston, musician

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