Printed on: September 07, 2013

Music for free

Musician wants to brighten your day; but tips are nice, too


Nevets Thurman sat, guitar in hand and cigarette in mouth, across the street from La Vanilla Bean in downtown Idaho Falls.

He began playing "Simple Man" by Lynyrd Skynyrd. People walked by and looked back as the 24-year-old belted out the Southern rock classic.

"When I sing it and play it, it gives me this feeling that everything about it is right," he said. "Not only that, but I have a great range when I sing it. I can be very loud, and I can be heard. It's a good song for me to express my emotions."

A tip jar sat next to him. Some days, Thurman can make as much as $90. When the streets aren't busy, he can make as little as $2. On a typical day, he pockets $20.

"It's not easy making a living playing music," he said. "At first, I just wanted to go out and make people's days better. Then people started giving me tips. Good thing, because I needed the money."

He does not have a steady-paying job now, but he said he will work on a farm in the winter feeding cows.

When Thurman first started playing, he didn't have a tip jar. People would show their gratitude by giving him food.

He once dreamed of saving enough money to go to California in pursuit of a musical career. He changed his mind because the cost of living there is too high.

Thurman lives in Idaho Falls but was born in Port Angeles, Wash. He was home-schooled and he received his GED when he was 17.

He is a self-taught musician. He started playing music because it's something he loves and it makes people smile. He knows 25 songs by heart.

Some are staples of the '60s and '70s, including "Happiness is a Warm Gun" by the Beatles and Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here."

Local business people, city government officials and police officers have been receptive. On the Fourth of July, some state troopers stopped him and asked him to play his best song.

Not everyone is as receptive. Someone at the weekly farmer's market event told him he needed a permit to perform. His mother, Bernadine Thurman, called the city clerk's office.

"I said, 'My son goes down and sings on the weekends and (one day) he was told he needs a permit.' I told her some of the places he goes to, and she goes, 'I've seen him in the newspaper. I've heard him when I go out to lunch.' She goes, 'He doesn't need a permit,'" Bernadine said.

A representative at the city clerk's office confirmed that street performers do not need permits to play in downtown Idaho Falls.

Some downtown business owners think Thurman's music adds a cultural element.

"He's just across there. He kind of makes downtown more interesting for everyone. He attracts people. He doesn't bother them," said KayLynn Broadhead, owner of La Vanilla Bean.

Initially, his mother was skeptical of his decision to perform on the street. But she said she has seen a change in her son since May, when he started playing downtown.

"I've noticed improvement in his self-confidence, his playing, his learning new types of music," she said. "He never played jazz before, and somebody said something to him about it, so he started doing that."

Family friend George Burt said Thurman's family has supported him in his musical endeavors.

"There's not a time when our families get together that he's not the center of attention, singing or playing a song he wrote," Burt said.

He auditioned for "American Idol" when tryouts came to eastern Idaho in August 2012. The judges told him he didn't have the vocal volume needed to win the contest.

"I think it made him more determined to become better at what he does," Bernadine said.

As he played his songs Aug. 22, people responded in different ways. One woman got out of her minivan at a stop sign and gave him money. He received a thumbs up from a man driving by in a red sedan. Three children from the same family each gave him a dollar.

But the weather is changing, and soon Thurman will take a reluctant hiatus from his street performances.

"I'm not going to have many more of these days," he said. "It's going to get cold soon. It's a major bummer."

Reporter Cody McDevitt can be reached at 542-6751.