After her first year at Central Michigan University, Tori Jaques was broke.
So, along with her fiancé, Devin, the Grand Rapids sophomore took to the pavements of CMU’s campus and downtown Mount Pleasant to earn a living as a street performer.
“We were kind of down and out,” said Devin, 19, who works in Alma and is a Mount Pleasant resident. “We’d had a lot of life struggles and just thought we’d take our guitars and see what happens.”
Their stringed melodies and courageous vocals echo throughout campus in between Jaques’ classes, where she studies integrated public relations.
The joyful optimism in her voice is a long way from the hardships that lead her to a curb near Moore Hall each week. Strumming her guitar and happily interacting with fellow students who pass by, Jaques greets even those who do not kneel before her open guitar case to drop change.
“It’s like asking a girl to prom,” she said of street performing. “You can’t be afraid of rejection.”
The duo met in March 2012 through a shared cigarette outside the Charles V. Park Library. By the spring, they’d been evicted from a friend’s house and were struggling to find work.
They resorted to sparse odd jobs, but quickly had to find another means of sustainment.
“We tried so many different ways to make money,” Devin said. “It’s nerve-wracking, but exciting. You just kind of go with it.”
The couple, both self-taught guitarists since their early teens, began earning money for their public performances.
In one of their first nights out in April, they earned a combined $150 while posted outside Rubbles Bar and The Bird Bar and Grill in downtown Mount Pleasant.
“It’s a lot of fun to perform as a couple,” Jaques said. “Playing together, we sound beautiful.”
According to Devin, the biggest difficulty facing street performers is finding areas rich with supportive patrons and plenty of pocket change.
He said an average take could be up to $50 on a good night, but that he’s been averaging $20 over the summer.
“It’s tough figuring out when people are around,” he said. “During school, everyone is passing through, so you know you’ll get heard whether they like it or not.”
Jaques said she’s received a warm welcome at CMU. She hasn’t met any opposition and intends to keep playing throughout the year, even in the cold.
“People like it a lot; that’s encouraging,” she said. “(Other students) said it was cool. That’s all that matters to me. Nobody ever gets upset if you try to pick public places.”
The couple has recently taken their eclectic performance, ranging from Lynyrd Skynyrd to Metallica, on the road. They took a trip in September to Wheatland for the 40th Annual Wheatland Music Festival.
Although Jaques and her fiancé weren’t on the official bill, she said they started several outdoor “circles” of musicians.
“Playing outside is different from inside,” Devin said. “There’s no echo. You can hear it differently.”
Jaques said the two prefer playing outside and that they will for the rest of their lives.
“I can feel my sound resonate more,” she said. “Whatever moves the mood.”