Teaming up for good

Robert Everest: on being a local artist

I met Robert Everest on a beautiful Thursday evening in Linden Hills last month.  He’d just finished singing an exquisite bolero for the diners and dog walkers, and then he piqued my interest with a comment about having two equal careers.
If you’re an artist, or a creative, as they are often called these days, you are distinctly different from others in that your primary “work” is your art.  Most people “work for money,” and that “work” is their work. Artists, on the hand, work for money on the side, enough to live on – and their art is their work. 
We know this. It’s not uncommon for artists to have a dead-end day job that pays the bills, and during their “art time”  – not to be confused with your “off time” – you do your art with as much energy as you can bring to it.  Sometimes, if you’re lucky, your job relates to your art. (Think of the musician who also works with wood and builds violins and cellos.)
But when Robert said that he had two careers, I wondered how he found the balance – in his mind – to have almost two distinct identities. 
“You are a professional, full-time musician – and you are into your day job, as a career?”
He said, “Yeah... and you know what’s weird?  I’m a painter, too, and I had this huge show, and tons of people came, and they loved it. But paintings are hard to sell. Making it as a painter is impossible.” 
I’d forgotten what his other job was.  
In seventh grade, back in 1980s when we could choose French, German or Spanish, he chose to take Spanish “based on Sesame Street” and the fact that his grandmother spent her winters in Mexico. “Yes, my Ukrainian Gramma spoke Spanish with me,” he said with a laugh. Soon he was heading to Ecuador as a foreign exchange student.  Fast forward through the University of Minnesota undergraduate Interpreter Program, he is now a medical interpreter employed by Hennepin Health Care.
I ask him: “So you are in life and death situations?”  
“Oh yeah. Labor and delivery, too.”
Robert graduated from the U with an interpreter certificate and became a full-time musician.  He’d played music his whole life, and with all the traveling, he developed an ear for the musical styles of the Spanish and Portuguese. Plus, he was into linguistics. 
“People want authenticity,” he said. “Living overseas as much as I have, I became fluent in Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian. People wonder, am I Brazilian or American?  Sometimes, when I sing a French waltz, they think I’m French.
“I laugh at this. But people ask me, ‘How do know 400 songs in seven languages from 30 countries?’ and I say, ‘It’s well-channeled ADHD.’  My brain is not good for keeping my house clean. But it’s great for this. If you watch me for two minutes, it’s obvious – Music is my calling.”
I ask about the money he earns in music, and he rattles off the companies that have hired him: Target, Ecolab, General Mills.  When Cargill – known for being a world-wide company  – was looking for musicians for their 150th anniversary, they found Robert.
“Before children, I played out 8-10 times per week.  Five gigs a weekend.  My drummer once said, ‘You’re the hardest working musician I’ve ever known, and you have a day job.’  It’s true, but I’m a single dad, now, with two kids.”
How can it be that this guy plays for free at Summertime Acoustic?
I’m friends with the Harriet Brasserie owners, he says, with a smile. They’re Brazilian.   
Suddenly, there’s the telltale sounds of a car door and the bluetooth disengaging. We interrupt the phone call, so Robert can dash into Costco.  I sit back and ask myself, “Where am I going with this story?”
At the Linden Hills Summertime Acoustic series, the musicians play for free.  Or as we sometimes call it, “for tips.”  We’ve come to expect that from musicians.      
Unless you’re paying $50 a ticket, every musician you ever see playing live is probably playing for less than $20 per hour.  When passers-by put a few dollars in, the musician often ends up with 17 single bills after 90 minutes of work. In a bar, the four-piece band rarely takes home more than $50 each.  
It takes work to become a musician.  It doesn’t take just “muscle memory,” like riding a bike. It takes extraordinary discipline. Concentration. Specific and profound physical strength in your hands and forearms.  A good memory helps.  Ear training.  And on top of all these things: collaborative skills.   
Some dads are lucky to play in a bar once in a while, and that’s fine.  But some people make a living making music for us. Those professional musicians have to be good at what they do. 
If you tip your waitperson $20 dollars for bringing four burgers and eight beers to your table, are you being generous to throw three bucks in the musician’s tip jar? Think of this way: if you put $10 into the hat, it will take six other people to do the same thing in order for this singer to go home with $90. 
The phone rings. Robert’s back. “Nothing in arts is easy,” he says. He recorded five CDs over a 10-year period, and then life and kids took over for a while.  
“I recently rediscovered about 10, 15 old notebooks, dating back to 1987. They are full of lyrics, songs I wrote.  I found over 100 songs I wrote before graduating from high school.  It inspired me to start paying more attention to my original compositions. 
He’s about to release his first solo CD of original compositions. 
“Everybody likes ‘Funiculi Funicula’ and ‘Girl from Ipanema,’ but it takes boldness to perform original music,” he says. “The audience doesn’t know me yet. hey don’t know the heart broken teenager who wrote this song, or the single dad who wants to give his kid a good life. The songs I’m recording now are vulnerable songs.
“The title of the new CD is ‘A Life of Lessons Learned,’ and ironically, I wrote it when I was young, in my 20s, and I was messing up in life and asking for help, you know. My life was full of dumb mistakes, and I was reaching out, asking the universe, ‘Send me the wisdom of a life of lessons learned.’”
When will it come out?  
“Recording is done. We are mixing and mastering, writing liner notes, doing label art.”   
Robert hopes to have a CD release party in September or October.  I’ll be there.
Robert Everest plays regularly at Maria’s Café on East Franklin. More at


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