Tree Man

An eccentric icon of the East Village

A view of the window looking out of the old Sin-é at 122 St. Marks Place In the liner notes to Live at Sin-e, Jeff gives a shout-out to Tree Man. Let me tell you the story I witnessed one night at Sin-e.

Tree Man was an older, African-American homeless guy who hung out in the East Village. He stuck tree branches that he found in parks in the back of his shirt, so they rose behind his head. He often walked around and talked to himself. He would beg for change in the local bars, cafes and restaurants, no matter what was going on, and, at Sin-e, his entrance would instantly shut down whoever was playing, since the place was so small.

One night, Jeff was doing his Monday night gig at Sin-e, and Tree Man walked in and started loudly asking each table for change. I don’t remember what song Jeff was playing, but he stopped when it became impossible to continue. Instead of getting mad or frustrated, Jeff started talking to Tree Man, asking him where he was from, etc.

Tree Man was kind of crazy and not that lucid, but Jeff managed to get him to tell him that he was from Mississippi. Jeff asked him if he grew up singing the blues. Tree Man said yes. Jeff asked him what songs he liked to sing. Tree Man named a couple of songs, and Jeff knew one of them. He invited Tree Man to the mic and started playing the song on his guitar. Tree Man, to everyone’s astonishment, started singing, and he was pretty damn good. A soulful, rough, gravelly voice. Tree Man sang the entire song, accompanied by Jeff on the guitar and backing vocals, and when they finished, the place exploded in applause.

Jeff passed the tip bucket and asked people to “pay” for the performance, and people started throwing significant money in the bucket. Jeff asked the waitress to bring Tree Man a sandwich, which she did. Jeff collected the money from the hat, gave it to Tree Man, and the old guy walked out into the night like nothing happened. It was one of the most magical musical moments I’ve ever experienced.

Source: Gregory Smith