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Graham’s music is pure folk

Nomadic musician is at home playing in the shadow of UNM’s Popejoy Hall

Brian Graham seems like he stepped out of a time machine that came directly from the golden age of American folk music.

Graham, 22, regularly plays his songs in small coffee houses, at open mic nights and in the street. He says playing music in the street can be sort of romantic, but he has practical reasons for doing what he does.

“It’s about eating and surviving without bumming change,” he said. “I don’t like to bum change.”

Graham looks like a cross between a young Bob Dylan and a young Tom Waits. His music is pure, unadulterated folk — complete with a harmonica in a headset. He says his main influences are Dylan, Hank Williams and “people I’ve played with in the street.” But it isn’t hard to find a lot of Woody Guthrie in what Graham does. The first verse of his song “Worn Out Wheel,” goes like this:

“Old John Henry was a friend to the poor / He wanted all the little folks to have a little more / His heart was like an apple, sweet down to the core / Old John Henry was a friend to the poor …”

Graham said one of his favorite places to play is in front of Popejoy Hall on the UNM campus. He said on a good day he makes $20 an hour while playing there.

“But I can only play for a couple hours before I’m worn out,” he said.

He also plays outside local health food stores. Occasionally, he buses tables in order to supplement his performance income.

Graham was born in Montana and moved to Albuquerque in August 1999, with his then-girlfriend. He lived with her in a UNM dormitory, though he wasn’t a student.

When they broke up and she left town, he had no money to go anywhere. He said being stuck in Albuquerque has its ups and downs.

“It’s a dump, but I like it,” Graham said. “I’ll never move anywhere for a woman again.”

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