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Downtown Journal
September 17, 2007

Skyway songs
Michelle Bruch

Larry Havluck has been performing Downtown for nearly 30 years.

Larry Havluck bikes into Downtown each weekday and most Saturdays with a guitar strapped over his back and a barstool slung over the handlebars.

He stations himself in the skyway over the lunch hour, takes a coffee break at Macy's lower level and plays again during the afternoon rush home to net the most passersby, most of whom glance at him briefly and keep walking. After years of practice, he can sing at a high volume for six hours a day and sing as late as midnight without straining his voice.

He's played this same skyway between Macy's and the Highland Bank building for 28 years. He said his voice carries better in this carpeted walkway than the next one over, which is smaller and more crowded.

"This one fits me," he said.

On one Tuesday afternoon, a man slowly walking through the skyway dropped a couple of bucks on the guitar case, but most of the walkers were unfazed as they passed by Havluck, who strummed tunes like "Peaceful Easy Feeling" and "Blowing in the Wind."

One man in a suit busted out a laugh at a line from Havluck's song about U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann.

"Who kisses up to Bush, Whose lips are on his tush, Whose hand was on his suit, So long that it's not cute — Michele Bachmann," he sang.

That song has a bit of a reputation in the skyway, Havluck said. One man flashed a badge and told Larry there were several complaints about the song, and he shouldn't play it. Immediately afterward, a couple approached Larry and requested the Michele Bachmann song, so it remained in the rotation.

Havluck said people have had wide-ranging reactions to his music. Last spring, a nicely dressed man walked up to Havluck and said that he moved into the city seven years ago feeling depressed, but Larry's music always made him feel better. He gave Larry a $50 bill with a word of thanks and said he was moving back to Chicago.

Havluck was playing in Uptown one night when a young man walked up to him and apologized for harassing Larry while hanging out Downtown. He gave him 10 bucks to make up for lost time.

Havluck has a catalog of interesting stories about his listeners. He once sang "Happy Birthday" by request to a construction worker who was building the Conservatory on Nicollet Mall. A woman waiting at a bus stop once paid him money to not play "Cecilia," because Cecilia was her name and her brothers tortured her with that song. One man who was going into the Marines asked Havluck to play a waltz so he could dance with a girl.

One night actor Matt Dillon was eating at the Keys Café (with someone who looked a lot like Cameron Diaz) and stopped by to tell Havluck he liked the music.

When asked about the pull that's kept him coming Downtown for all these years, Havluck needed to think a minute.

"I kind of like the energy," he said. "I've seen it grow and change a lot. ... It's not a big city; you can walk across it in 15 minutes."

He said he once played in San Francisco, a city that he found to be a bit overwhelming. It was hard to find a spot to play, what with all of the people sleeping in doorways and under awnings on the street side.

Havluck is originally from International Falls, Minn. His first big solo singing performance was a song from "Oliver" in the junior high chorus. He joined a rock band in high school, where he imitated Mick Jagger's voice and sang songs like "Jumpin' Jack Flash." Havluck surmises that the band was where he learned to sing loud, because he shared an amp with the lead guitar.     

Havluck previously worked in food service, with jobs such as a dishwasher and baker and cook. He played in public as a hobby until he decided to devote his career to music. The last time he did kitchen work was in 1989.

"I was always fascinated with songwriting," he said.

The songs Havluck writes are by turns sentimental (he wrote a song about the bridge collapse) —  and not so sentimental, such as a song called "Feline Dementia" that was inspired by his cat Brunswick (named for the cat's bowling ball-like weight). Other songs are commentaries on national and local politics.

"I'm kind of a news hound; I keep up on stuff," Havluck said.

One of Havluck's newer songs is "Adios, Mr. Gonzalez," an ode to the outgoing Attorney General. "Media Circus" was a tribute to the dozen media vans camped outside the Government Center during a court hearing on the Vikings' boat scandal.

He has recorded two albums. One was released on cassette in 1993 called Half Life, which is comprised of 16 original songs. In May he released Topical Island Getaway, which is already sold out.

Havluck lives in the Whittier neighborhood of Minneapolis, and he usually makes enough money from tips and gigs to cover rent set by his friend of about $200 per month. He said incoming money gets tight when the weather's bad, and his income usually jumps up during a string of big conventions and during the holiday season.

"The economy kind of affects people," he said. "Money is tighter."

He said he wants to make sure people understand that he and other street musicians are not panhandlers, and the recent crackdown on panhandling laws do not apply to the performers. Some of the building managers on Nicollet Mall have started pushing musicians 6 feet away from the building edge, he said.

Havluck once asked the City Council for clarification on where musicians can and cannot play, but the skyways are private property and performances are at the discretion of the owners. Havluck can play in the same spot for 20 years, talk to a security guard in one hour, and be told by the security guard in the next shift that he's not allowed there. Havluck said he never protests when someone tells him to move on. He has talked to other musicians about getting representation, however, because a new security company has been kicking musicians out of the Convention Center area. The loss of that busy area would be a huge financial blow to the players, he said.

One new aspect of skyway life that Havluck has noticed is the ever-increasing pace. He learned to compete with Walkmans back in the early '80s, but now it seems that more and more people are plugged into iPods and the skyways are fairly loud because of all the people on cell phones. Havluck has learned to sing from his diaphragm, like opera singers do, so he can sing over the buses on Nicollet Mall and the music pumping out of loudspeakers.

"I wonder, is this going to be the way it is forever?" Havluck said.

Reach Michelle Bruch at 436-4372 or .



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