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Sidewalk symphonies

A violinist, passing through town. A self-proclaimed "park rat" treating passersby to a taste of acoustic blues. And a flautist, nearly invisible amid the ivy hanging from nearby buildings. These are a few members of Ashland's growing club of street musicians. With different backgrounds and similar aims, they share a passion for music — and the need for a few bucks. Lately they have been bringing their music to the heart of downtown Ashland.

Alex Tricter, 22, has lived in town four years. Though he has played guitar since the age of 12, not until last year did he work up the courage to take his act public.

"I'd been wanting to play out here for a while, I just didn't think I was good enough" Tricter said. The scraggly-haired guitarist is a fan of blues music, and loves bringing his acoustic sound to the plaza. "I just play my guitar, and watch the people go by."

Some musicians build recognition by playing in the same location over and over again. Sperry can be seen just about every day, nestled under the same set of trees in Lithia Park. Around the corner, a flautist who goes by the name Clayara sets up next to Chateaulin restaurant, her one and only venue.

They are driven by their love of music, and of performing. But others are in it for more practical reasons.

Up the road, near the Varsity Theater, a young woman named Mary plays her violin.

"This is just always something I could do well," said Mary, who declined to give her last name. Originally from California, she is homeless, and sleeps in her car. Lying beside her backpack and violin case is a cardboard sign, "Need money for gas."

"I try to play so I can get around," she said.

Though several plaza visitors said they were bothered by the musicians' presence, most said they do not mind.

Shadassa Ourshalimian works at the sandwich shop Pangea. The eatery is near Mary's location, and Ourshalimian said the customers he noticed seemed to enjoy the music.

"I think they add a sense of liveliness to downtown," Ourshalimian said. "I don't see how there's anything wrong with that."

Enjoying an outdoor meal at Sesame Asian Kitchen, Milt Cohning may have put it best. The San Francisco resident said he had not yet heard any musical acts he liked. But he appreciated what those who did play were doing.

"I think a town needs some culture, music and the arts," Cohning said. "No matter what you think of them, would this place really be better without them?"