And now — in lieu of his usual concerts and club gigs — Chester Chandler, better known as Memphis Gold, is performing from his apartment balcony in Ballston every Friday night from 8-9 p.m.
The informal outdoor concerts, near the intersection of N. Randolph Street and 9th Street N., have started attracting dozens of onlookers — socially distanced on the sidewalk, for the most part. From his 8th floor perch, Chandler and his guitar give the neighborhood an hour-long musical respite from the stress of life during the pandemic.
Chandler tells ARLnow that he got the idea from seeing locked-down residents in cities around the world opening their windows at 8 p.m. to bang pots and pans and make noise.
“I saw some people come out on their balcony, I said well this would be a good time to play some music, have a good time, and be happy we’re alive,” he said. One Friday night, with little fanfare and no public announcements, Chandler went outside and started playing. He’s kept it up every Friday night since.
“It turned out to be a good thing,” he said, “now people chant for more.”
Chandler doesn’t do much self-promotion during the concerts, to the point that many don’t even know who’s playing on the starkly lighted, distant balcony. But Chandler’s humility belies his musical resume.
He is a native of Memphis, Tennessee, who grew up on the famous Beale Street blues corridor. He is a Vietnam veteran who has toured internationally, playing blues festivals and concerts for U.S. troops. He also claims to be the first musical act at Whitlow’s, when it moved to Clarendon in 1995.
Chandler’s musical career started after nearly four years of homelessness in the early 90s. While living on the streets of D.C., he visited a pawn shop and saw a guitar on sale for $600. He convinced the shopkeeper to set it aside for him and eventually saved up enough from doing yard work for “little old ladies” to buy it. After that, he was able to support himself through his music.
Chandler, 65, has lived in the Randolph Towers apartment building for nearly two decades, and says there’s no place he’d rather be.
“Arlington has been my home for the last 20 years, and I tell you, I’ve love every minute of it,” he said. “I love my neighbors… I’m centrally located, and I’m an old man in a sea of yuppies around here.”
Chandler said he’ll keep playing on Friday nights until he can resume paying gigs. The loss of income has been tough, he said, but he’s been able to get by on veteran benefits and online donations from fans. And whenever he can, he gives what he can to support first responders and homeless vets.
One welcome side effect of Chandler’s playing and the pandemic? All of those passersby who are getting to hear his soulful guitar playing potentially becoming fans of the genre.
“I like it when the younger kids discover blues music,” he said.
A Friday night balcony concert in Ballston…
Posted by Arlington Now on Friday, April 17, 2020