Local musician and emergency room nurse Jim Lyons has been involved with Street Music Week in Spokane almost since the beginning. Seven years ago, he helped bring the downtown music festival to Coeur d’Alene.
The annual event, featuring musicians of all types playing on the street for donations for Second Harvest - a nonprofit that feeds people in need - is set for June 10-14. Musicians will be out during the noon lunch hour on Sherman Avenue each day.
“We felt this was a model that could be used across the country,” Lyons said. “I thought it was a natural place to go.”
The event is now entering its 17th year in Spokane, but Lyons said there was some resistance to the idea when he first brought it to Coeur d’Alene. Then a friend introduced him to Coeur d’Alene city councilman and musician Woody McEvers, who supported the project.
“The rest is history,” Lyons said. “This year we have tremendous support from the Downtown Coeur d’Alene Association. Coeur d’Alene is a vibrant tourist town. People have started to embrace it pretty well.”
Musicians are asked to meet shortly before noon at Mix It Up on Sherman Avenue to get their donation buckets and pick a spot to play. Musicians of all skill levels are invited to participate.
“We’ve had kids with two violin lessons play and Grammy award winners play,” he said. “You don’t have to schedule it. You can just show up.”
Donations from the event have always gone to Second Harvest and the event has brought in just over $209,000 since it began.
“Food access is a critical component of health,” Lyons said. “We support food banks as part of our mission to be sure that no one goes hungry in America. We live in a pretty well-off community. There is no reason anybody should go hungry. It’s people helping people through music.”
Street Music Week was first started in Spokane as a solo endeavor by musician and then Spokesman-Review columnist Doug Clark after he was inspired by street musicians in Seattle.
“I did it the first year all by myself,” said Clark. “it’s just about filling the street with art and music and entertainment.”
An editor suggested he make the effort an annual event and recruit other musicians to take part. That’s when Lyons got involved. “Jim Lyons showed up the second year,” Clarks aid. “He has never missed a day. “
“I just kind of heard about it,” Lyons said. “Doug put out a call for musicians and I wasn’t doing anything. This will be the 80th time I’ve played.”
Lyons showed up because music is in his soul and has been since he saw the Allman Brothers perform at 14. He said he would be lost without it.
“I’ve just always been connected with music,” he said. “Music has been a part of my life since I was a teenager.”
Clark said Lyons soon became a key planner for the event. “We became really extraordinary good friends,” he said. “We’re like co-equals.”
Clark calls Lyons other things besides his friend, including his amigo and conspirator at large. But the one nickname that Clark had nothing to do with is Dr. Hippie Pants.
Lyons was working in the Kootenai Health emergency room one day when an intoxicated woman in handcuffs was brought in by a police officer. She was being very loud and disruptive and Lyons talked her down.
“He’s calm,” Clark said. “He never loses his cool.”
Clark said that Lyons is a Grateful Dead fan and sometimes dresses the part, complete with long hair and a beard. The drunk woman called him Dr. Hippie Pants that night and the name stuck.
“For the rest of the night she’d say ‘I only want to talk to Dr. Hippie Pants,’” Clark said. “He was like the drunk whisperer.”
Clark gives Lyons full credit for spreading Street Music Week to Coeur d’Alene. “He’s the one who got Coeur d’Alene going kind of on its own,” he said. “He gets people involved in Coeur d’Alene.”
The annual event has also expanded to Garland Avenue in north Spokane and Appleton, Wisconsin. “It can be done anywhere with downtown lunch traffic,” Clark said. “Anyone can do it.”
The only rule musicians have to follow is that the music be acoustic – no plugging in.
“You have to be a street musician and be able to run at any moment from the cops,” Clark joked.
Clark said he appreciates all the work Lyons has put in both in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene.
“It would have been nowhere near what it is without his involvement,” Clark said. “He’s tireless.”
Though Lyons works in Coeur d’Alene, he lives in Spokane and performs in the Spokane Street Music Week with his band Flight Risk. He credits his coworkers at Kootenai Health with keeping the Coeur d’Alene Music Week running while he performs in Spokane.
“It’s a very simple idea and that’s why it works,” he said. “Maybe someday we can make it around the world. It’s pretty groovy.”
For more information see Streetmusicweek.com.