Homeless musician finds receptive audience on streets of Sarasota

Posted at 11:32 AM, Jul 01, 2015
and last updated 2015-07-01 07:45:22-04

SARASOTA, FL (WWSB) - If you walk down Main Street during the afternoon, you might run into one of Donald Gould's impromptu concerts. They can happen anytime at one of downtown Sarasota's sidewalk pianos, donated as part of the Sarasota Keys Piano Project.

A video of Gould, a homeless man living on the Suncoast, playing a cover of Styx’s "Come Sail Away" on a Main Street sidewalk received over 100,000 Facebook likes overnight.

"I was thinking I could just put my hat on the piano and make a couple dollars and get tips,” Gould says. “I didn't expect it to jump out to this."

Gould, known around town as "Boone," treats passerbys daily to the daily five-song set list he learned while growing up.

He calls his performances the "Boone" versions of classics like Billy Joel's "Piano Man" or Bach's "Toccata."

"I might not do the whole song complete as it was recorded originally, but I [know] enough to touch people out here -- 'cause I've touched a lot of people apparently," Gould says.

The 51 year-old started with a clarinet as a kid, eventually playing the instrument for the U.S. Marine Corps. Shortly after his service, he returned to his home state of Michigan to study music education at Spring Arbor University with aspirations to one day teach music.

"I took music theory and ear training, and I had to learn how to play every instrument from the piccolo down to the tuba,” Gould says. “I can write parts like a handbook."

Gould says he ran out of money three semesters short of graduation, and took up other jobs as he started a family.

Then his wife suddenly passed away in 1998.

"They sat me down, and they told me what had happened, that my wife had passed away... and I just lost it man," Gould says.

He began to follow a destructive path that included substance abuse, which in turn led to the loss of his then 3-year-old son to Social Services.

As time went by, Gould found his way to the Suncoast, where he met fellow musician Paul Lonardo. Today the duo play gigs all over Main Street.

"Musically, as you'll hear coming up, we're starting to really kick some butt out here," Gould says.

Sometimes little kids will sit next to Gould at the piano, and he'll let them play so that, for a moment, he can be the teacher he always dreamed of being.

"I play the ‘Heart and Soul’ bass, I say 'just hit the white keys, you can't screw up'... It doesn't matter how they play, if they play crappy or good, I always clap for them,” He says. “I'm a nurturer, I'm a teacher."

In response to the viral video of Gould playing “Come Sail Away,” one community member has reached out to Surf Shack on St. Armands Circle, who indicated they would be willing to give the pianist a tryout as a potential act for their upstairs piano bar after the holiday weekend.