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Tom Brosseau

One of the things we like best about Tom and his music is how sincerely a throwback he is. He dresses and acts the part of a guy from a small town and a bygone age but he’s not winking at it or us. He means it.

That’s why we loved the idea of plunking him down Joe Buck-like in the middle of mod Manhattan amid all its aggressive cacophony and hipster posing to see how his gentle, very unhip presence would fare. We took him around the corner from Joe’s Pub where he’d be playing the headlining gig later in the evening to two venerable hotspots of New York attitude: Astor Place Hair and St. Mark’s Place. We liked the potential tension between the reverently retro Brosseau and the irreverent and trendy East Village.

In Astor Hair, the idea was to let Tom stroll about the place, sure that his angelic singing and playing would eventually turn every shaved and mohawked head his way, at the very least to see why there was a guy in cowboy boots singing a country song in the middle of a barber shop. We let the owner know what we were up to, but no one else was in on it, so we were sure we’d rigged a surprise that would provoke a response. Not to be — the thing we like best about what happened is the last thing we would have predicted. Once Tom started playing, virtually no one seemed to pay him or us any mind. It’s just his lonesome voice alongside the din of barbershop activity, each oblivious to the other, like he was a ghost only we (and the camera) could see.

Of the people that do notice Tom, it’s fitting that one tells him “I’m a singer too,” and another picks up his guitar to show that he knows something about playing. What could be more New York than the belief that nobody, I don’t care who you are, is much better than anybody else, which is why a great singer like Tom can belt a song out in the middle of a hair salon and it’s still pretty much business as usual.

New Yorkers know that St. Marks Place is now more a touristy marketplace for selling cool than a cool place itself, but like most blocks in New York City, it’s still many things at once. We really had only the vaguest notion of what we’d do with Tom once we got there, but we also trusted that the bizarre blend of characters on St. Marks would mean something was bound to happen.

Here the camera was instantly recognized and frequently addressed, but Tom’s playing was still almost completely ignored. Until the last moment where suddenly that young kid breaks his facade of cool and matches Brosseau’s sincerity even if he misses the harmony. Finally, Tom had gotten through.