If you're a musician and a stranger listens to your music at a performance, then walks away feeling moved in some way, the gig was worthwhile. Last Thursday a bearded, homeless man wearing a backpack stopped along Hollywood Boulevard to listen to the comforting sounds of Peter Betan and Marc Berner as they played on the sidewalk in front of Chocolada in Hollywood.
Betan and Berner often play solo, but, for more than ten years now, they've also performed as a duo that, these days, offers an an eclectic blend of New Age-type material. Betan sings and plays guitar, and Berner plays a variety of instruments, including piccolo, alto flute, and soprano saxophone.
"Marc adds a whole different dimension [to my music]" Betan says, "because he's very ethereal in his playing, very New-Age-y, very spacy."
Named "Best Solo Artist" by the Miami New Times in 1991 and nominated for a Jammy Award in the same category in 1993, Betan also plays plenty of solo gigs, showcasing his tenor-to-mid-alto voice and finger-picking acrobatics. He performs at CocoWalk in Coconut Grove every Wednesday and at the Hyatt Regency in Coral Gables every Friday. This Sunday only, he'll perform at La Fontaine in Coconut Grove.
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"I have a very unique style of guitar-playing," Betan says. "It's not a taught style. They're all my own inventions as far as the finger-picking rhythms. I'm not your regular guitarist who's gone to school and learned to play. I've learned everything myself."
Betan says that, musically, Paul Simon and Arlo Guthrie are big influences. But the Hialeah resident's lyrics are completely his own.
"My songs are mostly spur-of-the-moment inspirations," he says. "I don't pick a subject. I just reach into the air for phrases and sentences, and I just put them together. There's no real formula for me. The formula's different every time."
At his gigs Betan offers three cassettes for sale: Betan, Short Stories (instrumental music featuring Berner and others), and Out of Love.