A street busker who makes his city feel at home

Street performer Eli Harris always entertains Syracuse, N.Y., fans before events.

Eli Harris, Syracuse’s most notable street performer, takes it inside the Syracuse University Book Store.

A familiar voice pleased my ears the other night.

A quick dodge through a couple of book aisles brought me to the sight of Eli Harris, bouncing with his guitar, working the crowd inside the Syracuse University Book Store.

I do believe it is the second time over the space of three decades that I’ve seen Eli performing indoors.

Elijah Harris is Syracuse’s most familiar street performer. He’s one plucky soul singer and guitarist. It’s pretty safe to say that Harris has shared his musical vision with Central New Yorkers numbering in the six figures. Over and over and over, Harris picks a good corner and performs. Into his open guitar case, folks toss change and folding money.

Daytime hours, he likes to play on Marshall Street, on the Syracuse University hill. At night, he can be found playing outside events, music and sports. So anybody who’s grabbed lunch on the busy hill or attended a football or basketball game at the Carrier Dome or a baseball game at NBT Bank Stadium or a concert or hockey game at the Onondaga War Memorial or a show at Crouse-Hinds Concert Theater or the Landmark Theatre has walked past Eli and his guitar. Hopefully, they’ve stopped to enjoy a musical moment.

Harris is tough. There have been stretches when he’s missing from Syracuse. A couple of years ago, he realized he was losing again to a problem and turned to the Veteran’s Hospital system for help. He’s worked his way through the death of his beloved wife. He’s bounced around, calling the apartment of different relatives home.

He always comes back.

Harris was a guest at the Syracuse University Book Store’s annual Faculty Staff Holiday Gala and Sale because he’s recorded for SU’s Marshall Street Records. In 2006, the student’s released “Eli’s Alleyway.” In 2010, they released “Eli’s Christmas Mission.” Two current Syracuse students represented the label, selling Eli’s CDs from a table.

He did his part, singing, talking, pitching, engaging.

The community cherishes Eli Harris.

Singer-songwriter Jamie Notarthomas wrote and recorded a song dedicated to him.

Promoter Dan Mastronardi bought him a new acoustic guitar.

Back when I covered the music and entertainment scene for the big daily, worried people would contact me when Harris was missing at his usual corners for any period of time.

His presence makes Syracuse a more interesting place.

Now, back to the first time I heard Harris’ voice inside …

Flash back with me to the mid-1980’s, on a night when I decided to go to a great local joint by the name of Shifty’s with some cronies from the big local daily. There was some singing and plenty of good times. I don’t remember what band was on the stage that night. (My best guess, for you fellow way-back Syracusans, is Robyn Fear or Danny Holmes.) In any case, when the go-home lights came on, somebody suggested the fun can continue at their house. Off I went with sports reporter Joe Sexton to the south side of Syracuse, where the party moved down to the basement. A singing circle broke out. One voice stood out for its bluesy soulfulness. It wasn’t long after that when I noticed Eli Harris on a street corner and recognized him as the man whose voice captivated that singing circle.

Do you have a favorite street busker where you live? Do you take the time to stop and listen?

11 thoughts on “A street busker who makes his city feel at home

    • I would sit and eat lunch with this man near his favorite street corner, and he was like the Mayor of Marshall Street. We couldn’t get two bites in without somebody coming up to the table to talk with him. Talk about being good for your city, all from a good voice, nice guitar work and an open guitar case for people to share their gratitude. I hope you can find one to admire, too!

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  1. Pingback: My Monday | could do worse

  2. I met Eli when my son Tim (Sullyfong) and Craig (Badger) Costello would invite him to sit in on stage with Neural Groove at Styleen’s Rhythm Palace in ’98. There’s another indoor gig for ya! Eli would wander in thru the Walton Street alley to the courtyard and hook up with the band during their break. It’s good to hear he’s still rockin’.

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  3. Love this article!

    It’s obvious that music can bring people together. In Eli’s case, he’s the one generating the connections. It’s amazing to hear him sing songs that I’ve heard him play before and new ones. He reaches out to everyone, no matter who they are and their age. Like a jam band–he puts on a new show every time.

    Several people anticipate his renditions during the summer and whenever they are sitting outside one of the local establishments. When he doesn’t show up, we–my friends and I along with strangers around us–wonder where he is.

    His performances are a small forms of philanthropy, adding and contributing to a greater humanitarian cause. Glad to hear he is still playing around town.

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  4. Mark … I’m glad Eli’s back. He definitely is a major part of the Syracuse landscape, in Armory Square, SU, and outside the North SIde stadium after baseball games. Thanks for bringing us up to date.

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