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Weighing in on best and worst CTA performers

Christine emailed me last week with an idea for some CTA Tattler reader participation. And a good idea it is.

She suggested we all write in about our favorite -- or least favorite -- CTA performers. Whether they be singers, guitarists, or Bible thompers, each is different and adds a certain flavor to our commuting experience.

For some reason, I don't usually see too many performers on my daily commute. But recently I started taking a class at Roosevelt University, and hopped a Michigan Avenue bus. At a bus stop on a drizzly afternoon, I spied a guy who was rappin' at the shelter. AT and ON the shelter, that is.

This nattily dressed fellow was standing on the small bench in the shelter at Michigan and Randolph, rapping away, while simultaneously rapping a beat on the shelter window with some small metal object.

Even though it was raining, fellow passengers gave him wide berth, and would rather stand in the drizzle than be subjected to his double rapping inside the shelter.

How about the rest of you? Weigh in below.


well. there's the lady who is the one person band.. who whistles mournfully, plays the violin and guitar and has taps/tambourines on her shoes. that's amazing. she's underground; red line mostly/sometimes blue line.

there's the street drumming kids who are sometimes underground red line, mostly above near addison stop/wrigley field. also, sometimes along michigan ave.

EVERY now and again, i see this awesome collection of horns: this whole 7-10 piece band of horns. trombones, tuba, trumpets, saxophones along state street. amazing.

and every now and again, i hear a gospel singer or two (random) who will just do it. i heard these people singing 'how great thou art' one night when i was just having the SHITTIEST day. it just did the trick.

yeah, the brass band is awesome. I've heard that they've played the Empty Bottle a couple of times.

A friend of mine used to play improvised acoustic guitar music in the Red Line stations, but he finally found a job. Which is actually too bad in a way, 'cause he's really good.

It's been awhile since I had the chance to switch between the Red and Blue lines at Washington, but I remember this guy who used to stand about half-way through the tunnel. He had some type of large, cushioned pad over his right thigh (maybe it was his left), and all he would do was thump that pad in rhythm--so much so that it left a worn out spot on his dark, blue jeans. He might have sang something, too, but I just remember him thumpin' his thigh.

The multi-piece horn group is called "Hypnotic" and they usually hand out cards with show dates. I've never caught one, but I'd like to see them full on in a proper venue because they truly do rock. They also sell CDs, and they are all brothers!

My favorite performers tend to be those with some interesting instrumentation, such as a clarinet and a violin. There are some rappers at the Jackson redline stop every once in awhile that are pretty good. And I love the bucket drumming kids. They almost always get change from me. A guy with an acoustic guitar was playing "Tin Man" by America on the Washington blue line a few weeks ago and that made me happy for days, because that's my third favorite America song.

My least favorite is probably Miss Flow. I hate to say that because she seems like a really nice person, but she sings R&B hits over karaoke tracks and she's just not that good. My second least favorite, and again, he seems nice and has a truly beautiful voice, is the shaker egg guy who sings beach music oldies. Mostly, I just don't like the songs he sings, but once the train was wicked late and he kept singing over the announcements telling passengers where the train was and that irritated me to no end.

OH and similar to Mr. Knee Pad, there was a guy in O'Hare last weekend who was just slumped over, desultorily shaking a rack of jingle bells. We saw him as we walked into to meet our friend, and figured he was just warming up but 30 minutes later, as we walked back out, he was still slumped over and slightly jingling.

A young woman who plays her guitar with an amp/microphone at the Red Line Chicago stop. She's usually there on the weekends in the afternoon. She is pretty good and sings rather well.

I remember the first time I saw the "one woman band." I was so impressed! And then the next time I saw her I thought, "Awesome, it just so happens she playing that song I like again!"

Then I saw her again and I was like, "Wait a minute..." After about a hundred times of seeing her play I can confirm, with some confidence, that she only knows that one song. Impressive still, in its way...

Ever seen the Michael Jackson impersonator at the Jackson blue line? He's so bad and he tells really bad jokes in a horrible falsetto. One time he was commenting about dropping his baby over the balcony. I'd love to hear what he has to say now.

I used to regularly see the silver statue guy (who stands outside Water Tower Place) going home after "work" waiting for the El at the Blue Line Washington station.

JZ wrote: "A young woman who plays her guitar with an amp/microphone at the Red Line Chicago stop. She's usually there on the weekends in the afternoon. She is pretty good and sings rather well."

I think the woman you're referring to is a musician/artist named Kristin Ronne. I often see her performing down on the Red Line's Chicago subway station platform. Her debut CD "Red Line Train" is available for sale when she's performing on the platform, but you can also buy it at www(dot)kristinronne(dot)com.

There's a new statue guy. He was working the southwest corner of Michigan and Chicago yesterday. He's bronze.

I think the Michael Jackson impersonator xlprg referred to is the same one who sings his own songs over a karaoke track and break dances. All of his songs seem to revolve around a man and a squeaky voiced girl having conversations about the state of their relationship....he does both voices. He's a bit of an annoyance.

But I like the elderly asian woman who plays the violin-like instrument...not sure what it's called. Both of these performers seem to be around the redline Jackson & Washington stops.

I wrote a little list that seems appropiate for this occasion:

Why I hate the jam-bot (a silver painted man who is supposed to look like a robot, or tin-man and stands downtown Chicago under the pretense of being about to jam, thus jam-bot)

1.) He is greedy. He has a sign in front of his jam-area that demands two dollars from EVERYONE (his emphasis) before he begins to jam, and he's serious. I saw a man hold up two dollars in front of the jam-bot's face, then drop it in the bucket, but EVERYONE in the crowd hadn't payed up so the jam-bot never moved, and the man didn't get his money back.
2.) He never dances. Sometimes he bounces around to give the illusion of warming up, which attracts a crowd, BUT HE NEVER ACTUALLY DANCES!
3.) He preached to me on the El. Evangelists are bad enough but on a crowded, end-of-the-day, rush-hour, red line trip through the loop he starts yelling to the crowd that they need to believe in Jesus, and all you other buddhists and catholics (who believe in jesus, by the way) and hindus are going to burn in hell. God I wanted to kill him.
4.) He gives my city and its street performers a bad name. I've got the backs of the bucket kids, the breakdancers, the old chinese violinist man, and a couple guitar players, but the jam-bot stands on Michigan avenue attracting all kinds of innocent tourists, steals their money, bounces around, then stands still! What if that is the only street performer they see?
5.) There is a better jam-bot, who must have retired or given up, who was really good. And I mean good! But this one only got second-rate jam-spots, even though he was actually entertaining. He never preached, was never greedy, danced and moved like a real robot, and he is nowhere to be found

I do not like CTA performers. They are of v bad talent & by the time I get off work I don't want to deal w/the noise, be it either CTA performers or cell phone stars.

Whatever happened to the Chinese man and his daughter, who play their violins out of tune?

A few years ago, there was a guy playing the tuba. He only knew one line from one song (I can't remember the song). He always made me laugh cause he'd play that one line over and over and over and over........

Taste of Chicago is around the corner so there will be a whole lot more performers out

It's been a while since I have seen her but...there used to be a small woman, I think since I usually just heard her and didn't often see her. She was often on the Blue Line at Jackson, sometimes the Red Line at Monroe and she plays an instrument that could either be a banjo or some sort of asian string instrument. The music was compelling and mysterious; to me anyway. I could never figure out if it was Chinese or bluegrass.

I nominate Frank Kreusi for worst performer.

I was running some arrands today during lunch and I was on the #157 heading south on mich. by the Wrigley Building. There were 3 guys that were break dancing and they had a pretty good size crowd. One of the guys looked inside the bus and motioned to us to come outside and join the show. Maybe if I was walking I would have stopped to see the rest of their performance.

What about that guy at Washington who just sings "Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues" over and over and over again?

oh yeah, and there was (is?) the blind guy with the keyboard that sat (sits? -- i don't go there anymore) in the tunnel between the red line and the blue line at washington i think...under city hall.... he'd kind of move his head back and forth ala ray charles or stevie wonder. he'd sing his own songs or covers, as i recall, and have a big white bucket out in front of him to gather monies. he'd be there in the mornings, and sometimes, in the afternoons....

remember him?

Music is subjective. A subway or elevated stop is no place for "musicians". Passengers should not be subjected to noise they might find annoying.

"Passengers should not be subjected to noise they might find annoying."

what, like the sound of the train itself screeching through the tunnel?

If we're getting rid of annoying sounds, I have a few:
"Ding, dong. Doors are closing." "Beep, beep, beep. Your attention passengers. We are being delayed, waiting for signals ahead. We expect to be moving shortly." "Clark and lake is next. Doors open on the right in the direction of travel at Clark and Lake. This is Clark and Lake. Transfer to the Blue, Orange, Purple, Brown and Green line trains at Clark and Lake."

Martinique is spot-on. Jam-bot is a hack, only good for the tourists. And speaking of, when I was in Munich a week ago, there was a bronze jam-bot-type fellow there that would jam the shit out of Chicago's embarrassing excuse for a human statue. We need to raise our standards!

jocelyn, i know who you're talking about. He's usually in the pedway (the tunnel between the red and blue line stations at washington) during evening rush hours.

Why is it that there are these "jam-bot" people in more than just our city? Do they ever get together? I can understand one guy thinking he has a new idea to paint himself and stand like a statue but there's a bunch of them! My roommate is convinced these kind of people are paid by the city to make it feel more like a big city for the tourists. I used to be entertained by the "where's the ball?" guy on the train but he's just a scam artist.

There was a guy that sang the "Cupid, draw back your bow (ooo-whoa)" song at the Monroe red line stop last fall. He had a great voice.

Worst stop for music: Red Line Jackson. Most people plug in a boombox and do karaoke and/or rap over the beat. I did hear a funny guy there last week. He was singing "lean on me," and at the end he was doing the "call me...call me" part, and he was like "ring, ring...hello?...yeah, I'm on the train, it's not a good time to talk...what?...oh okay I'll call you later." Something like that anyway. It was funny enough that there were audible chuckles from those of us around him.

I completely forgot about the "Where's the ball?" or the "Find the Queen?" guys. How they could move that ball around on the news paper in a moving train was beyond me. The funny but sad part about them are the people they scam.

There was a pretty good caricature artist riding the Red Line about five years ago, and I'd seen a couple of others. Whatever happened to them?

There's also a new red statue lady this year. I've never seen any of these people "jam."

I've had some perpetual favorites over the years, although I haven't seen them in a while.

One is a slender, gray-haired African American gentleman saxophone player who played an odd set, most of which consisted of TV theme songs like "Sanford and Son" and "The Simpsons," although he did play a rousing version of "When the Saints Go Marching In."

The others sang Bulls themed songs. One changed the words of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" to "Take Me Out to the Bulls Game" while the other had this odd rhythm where he would clap five or six times and then yell out the name of a Bulls player (*clap clap clap clap clap clap* Scottie Pippen!).

I give props to all street performers. It takes a lot of courage to stand in front of a huge group of strangers and draw attention to yourself, even though a lot of people choose not to acknowledge your existence.
An interesting fact: in order to be a street musician in chicago, you need a permit, which cost $50 and doesn't even last a year, you also need a social security number. There's a seperate one for the CTA, which is $25 I hear, but there are only 4 places you can legally play, and those are on the blue and red line subways where the music box sign is.

I am a journalist working on a piece about CTA musicians and came across this site. I would love to interview any of the people who posted on this site about these musicians.

i'm just curious..does anyone here have a clue what's up with the full-body make-up fairy/witch mime ladies that i saw downtown a few weeks ago? so far, ive seen the green one, the gold one, and the red one. i heard something about there being a blue one, too. but i dont have a clue why they were playin statue. were they supposed to be promoting that "wicked" play? after staring at her for nearly 10 minutes straight, i gave the golden one a quarter and she reached in her little bag and gave me a piece of paper that said "just for today: think about what a word would look like if it were written backwards!" I seemed to be more confused then than I was before I'd approached her.

My favorite is the keyboard guy in the pedway between the Red and Blue lines. He is still there, but not as often now during the summer. He played on a stage at the Blues Festival in 2004.

I was on a 151 a week or so ago and i had a bus driver with an amazing voice.... and he would sing each stop after the automated announcement... After a long day it made me smile....

I was so interested in CTA performers I made a 6-minute documentary on them for a film class. Hope you enjoy.


My name is Kristin Rönne. I am one of the performers you may have seen in the subways over the past year. I perform locally and nationally at cafe's and clubs as well. I played in the subway for fun and found it actually paid the bills. I have seen many different performers over the past year and have had a chance to meet most of them. What amazing stories they all have. You can learn more about my music at www.kristinronne.com - including where I will be performing next. My next performance is at a bar called Kitty Moon at 6237 N. Clark 3 blocks south of Devon. Sunday Jan 15 @ 9 pm. There is no cover to get in.

While playing in the subway I got to perform with a sax player and a trumpet player, but usually I performed alone with my guitar - singing into a mic for amplification. I was always impressed with the acoustics of the subway. The sound is amazing. Some very talented jazz musicians from the Delmark Records label play down there. You never know who you'll get to hear for free on your commute.

Keep an open mind and an open heart.


I am thinking of playing down there.
Can't find where you get a permit though!!!


Hi, years back there was a brotha that use to walk the train cars, and actually preform on the train during the ride.

He use to sing a song "Just a Little More Love" It was an amazing song, and many of the daily riders enjoyed and appreciated his performance. Does anyone know this artist name and what he is up to? Did he put out an album? I would love to buy his music.

He used to ride the trains between the yrs 1996-1998. I remember him riding the red line.

Cta performer fan

A song is stuck in my head from a guy singing on the blue line Jackson stop - usually at about 3 pm. "Lord give me a sign..I am working from the bottom trying to get to the top...trying to get my family off of the block.." (something like that) Is that a real song? Not sure if its the same Michael Jackson dancing guy..I only saw him dancing once and could not see his face.

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