Kitchen Sink Too

Busking drummer keeps the beat despite the law

Whenever Tony Thrown makes his way to Lincoln Road, he takes the back alleys that run behind the tourist boulevard. He emerges into the light at Pennsylvania Avenue, an old refrigerator shelf stacked on his head like an oversize hat ready to be knocked off by the next puff of breeze. Hunching slightly under the weight of his headdress, he pulls behind him a laundry cart stuffed with metal and plastic containers. He spreads out his wares on the concrete walkway in front of a boarded-up building opposite the Lincoln Theatre, where an advertisement boasts of the New World Symphony's dedication to developing musical leadership. Thrown, a man who literally has drummed his way out of some of Boston's toughest ghettos, performs a striking counterpoint to the symphony's statement of commitment to its young players. He is at once a cultural asset, part of the essential spice of Miami Beach's arts scene, and a frequent target of the city's fitful purges of peripatetic artists.

Until the 31-year-old drummer strikes the first note, he looks more like a dapper junk hawker than a percussionist. His drum kit is made of discarded kitchenware: shelves, oven grates, pots, pans, buckets. From the look of his equipment, it appears as if the scrap couldn't survive much of a beating. Before him sits a flipped-over and severely dented copper pail. To his left, on the ground, lay a large cast iron kettle mounted on an overturned bucket and pans that lost their luster long ago. The two refrigerator shelves resting lengthwise atop oven grills to Thrown's right appear ready to topple over before he even slaps a drumstick to them.

Thrown sits on a milk crate, precariously balanced between two realities; he is poised on the edge of his criminal past and Miami's cultural scene. On this November night, the street musician will talk easily and frankly about his life with an aspiring rap artist, a homeless man, a model, a child, a tourist, and a journalist. "Before I started playing the buckets I was just doing nothing but getting into trouble with the law," says Thrown. "This is what took me out of gangs and drug selling and all that negativity." His problems with the law are not entirely behind him, however. Code enforcers frequently ask him to move along. He has been arrested three times for "playing buckets," nabbed by police in Miami Beach, in Coconut Grove, and at Bayside. After each of the arrests in the Grove and Miami Beach, he returned to the scene of his playing only to find his equipment had been snatched. The unit he is playing now is in its third incarnation.

Steve Satterwhite
Steve Satterwhite

Details

Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays

On weekend nights he haunts Lincoln Road, Ocean Drive, and Washington Avenue

In front of the entrance to the Miami Cultural Center at West Flagler Street and SW First Avenue

When Thrown plays, the materials shift around him, sliding ever so slowly along the concrete. Several times one of the shelves topples over and is righted without a missed beat. Bearing a remarkable resemblance to the late and sedate Eric Dolphy -- slender frame, goatee, close-cropped hair, large, dark knowing eyes that emit a persistent and paradoxical wanderer's innocence -- Thrown bends forward, his torso and legs jackknifed at what seems to be painful angle, the better to get at the instruments before him. He wears baggy carpenter-style pants and a navy button-down polo shirt, which he soon discards as he heats up. Performing a half yogic, half Houdini-like stunt, Thrown frees himself of the garment, all the while keeping the beat. His sinewy muscles, damp with perspiration, shine purple in the neon and street lights. Sculpted sharply, Thrown's body has the sleekness of a greyhound. It comes as little surprise that he can play up to an hour and a half without a break. And then it is his back that gives out in need of a stretch, while his arms are as loose as rubber bands and ready for more.

He has only been playing for about twenty minutes tonight, but already about a dozen people have paused to watch the bent figure work at his unusual drum set. Shorts-clad tourists stop, their children in tow, and drop cash into the performer's only upright bucket. A beautiful blond-haired young woman on a bicycle listens and leaves only after getting a smile from Thrown. Some of the city's shadier characters also gather around the musician. Thrown is polite, but Chad, a street urchin who takes a seat twenty yards in front of the scene, cramps the drummer's style with his drunken babble. Later, during a break, Thrown admonishes him gently. Later still, he compliments a child on the colorful wheel of his scooter and then abandons his drums to help a woman who has crashed her bicycle.

The beat he is playing now is reminiscent of a New Orleans march, with a hip-hop undercurrent. He whacks the copper pail with the drumstick in his right hand and coaxes a "bap!" snare sound out of it. Then he uses both hands to fill the sonic space with the sounds of all the other junk laid out before him. For a high hat, he intermittently strikes an oven grill capped by the two metallic refrigerator shelves rigged to carry the sound further. He kebongs the kettle, making it clang like an amplified cowbell. His hands crisscross before him in blindingly quick figures.

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