Meet One Of Reno's Buskers

Sep 13, 2019

Every day, Reno's busking community is out on the sidewalks using a menagerie of musical instruments to provide a soundtrack for the city. KUNR's Wyatt Daane shares the story of one local street musician.

Cruising along Reno’s Riverwalk, right across the street from Hub Coffee Roasters, I met with Morgan Johnstone, Jr., a busker who has a street performance he calls Da’ Lil’ Mo Side Show.

Morgan Johnstone, Jr.'s sign that's displayed next to him while he plays.
Credit Wyatt Daane

Johnstone has been a street performer in Reno for 3 years. According to his sign, he is the self-proclaimed king of chump change, rebel without a cause and ½ Jesus Freak.

“I believe that I was called by God to be a musician when I was a child. Nylon string guitar is my primary, but if it has strings attached, then I’m probably a fairly fast study for it. I have a steel string guitar, I have a violin, I have a viola, but nylon string guitar gets the lion's share of the play time," Johnstone said.

I asked Johnstone how passersby tend to react to him, and he said there are 3 kinds of people in this world: “Those who find me playing well and appreciate me, and then there’s those that are indifferent, and then there are actually a few that are detractors. But the 'attaboys' far outweigh all of the negatives," Johnstone said.

Johnstone plays a variety of music, including classical, rock, and blues; however, he begins every performance of Da Lil’ Mo Side Show with an unexpected twist, the Star Spangled Banner.

“A lot of times, some people don’t appreciate a street musician, and then sometimes I actually have to declare, ‘Hey I’ve got my rights.' There are people out there that will rob you of your rights," Johnstone said.

Morgan Johnstone, Jr. sets out his hat to collect change from passersby.
Credit Wyatt Daane

According to the City of Reno, musical performances and other types of artistic self expression do not require a park permit or business license.

People walking dogs and enjoying their morning amidst the green trees and sunshine throw money into Johnstone’s brown fisherman’s cap.

“There is some really amazing talent out there," Laura Flannagan said.

Flannagan is out on a morning stroll with her son who points up at Johnstone and smiles. She has seen her fair share of good and bad street performers.

“I think there can become a point where there is, like, a little bit too much. It can get kind of crazy, but also I do know a lot of people that would enjoy that," Flannagan said.

She says Reno should embrace it’s busking culture, like other places around the country.

“I used to live in LA and would go to Venice Beach, and, you know, those performers are very much a part of that culture. I think that can be the same thing here, you know, that Reno can have their own kind of street performer vibe and entertainment. I think that it makes it kind of cool and unique, I guess," Flannagan said.

Across the street at Hub Coffee Roasters, barista Nick White is making himself a handcrafted cappuccino. We sit out on the patio during his break, within earshot of Johnstone.

“I think it takes a lot of guts to put yourself out there like that. I know I wouldn’t be able to do it," White said.

White is used to seeing buskers around the area for several hours each day, providing an interactive ambience for customers.

“I see a lot of our clientele kind of go over and talk to him every once in a while, and, you know, engage him. He seems to be pretty receptive to that, so that’s cool," White said.

Morgan Johnstone, Jr. plays original songs and covers.
Credit Wyatt Daane