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