On the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and M Street, people have places to be. The sounds of the intersection abound: the chatter of business calls, cheerful families, and the occasional car honk. Almost everybody walks through Georgetown’s busiest intersection with rushed purpose, their heads lowered and feet pointed toward one of the myriad shops or restaurants. Few of them stop, and even fewer notice—or allow themselves to notice—the young man breathing life into a rusted saxophone. 

Will Spruill has played the same street corner every day for between eight and 13 hours since the start of the pandemic in 2020. He performs in sweats and tennis shoes, sitting on a plastic foldable chair framed between two chipped donation bins. It doesn’t look like much, but it doesn’t have to. A poster, propped up against one of the bins, reads: “If you like what you hear …” 

There’s a lot to like. 

The breadth of Spruill’s repertoire is unusual even for a busker, whose sets often consist of covers of popular music. Using his saxophone to mimic the styles of each song he renders, the musician embraces each genre’s norms; he purrs Elton John, blasts AC/DC, and croons Usher in equal measure. 

Spruill’s eyebrows furrow in concentration, his shoulders swaying to the beat while he taps one faded sneaker to keep time. When he performs, his tone never wavers and he hits every note—a feat that grows more impressive the longer he plays. Despite the condition of his instrument, which seems like it might turn to dust at any moment, the saxophonist plays with the suave grace of any seasoned performer in Blues Alley. 

Though he’s spent most of his musical career playing to a walking audience, Spruill still boasts some traditional musical experience. He’s played for Crush Funk Brass, a popular District-based instrumental band and staple of the DC Jazz Festival lineup. 

An early indicator of Spruill’s love for spontaneity, Crush Funk’s impromptu style appealed to the young musician and made the band into something of a local celebrity. “We would just pop up anywhere—in Georgetown especially—and play,” Spruill said. “People really enjoyed it.”

However, communication issues within the band prompted Spruill to leave and return to where he felt most comfortable: the street. The native Washingtonian has been a street performer since he was 18 years old. He first picked up the saxophone during his school days, when he was a band student at Anacostia High School. 

“I actually first wanted to play the trumpet, but we already had four trumpet players,” Spruill said. “So my teacher pushed me to the saxophone. I haven’t put it down since.”  

Unsure what he wanted to do after high school, he moved to Sacramento, Calif. It was there, when he was lost and unemployed, that he first turned to music to support himself.

“I was at the age when my parents wanted me to figure out what I wanted to do [with my life],” Spruill said. “But I didn’t want to go to college. It didn’t feel right for me. So I just picked up my sax and left to Sacramento. I spent two years living off my saxophone—and that’s where I learned I could turn my music into something.” 

His commitment shows: by Spruill’s reckoning, he’s memorized hundreds of songs—over 300 of which he’s “got down perfect.” He rarely puts together a setlist. Instead, the music he plays is dictated by the speaker behind him, which shuffles through backing tracks while he belts out the melody. The selection mostly comprises pop hits; Spruill’s saxophone is more accustomed to crooning Mariah Carey than John Coltrane. But Spruill said his favorite part about the gig is connecting with the people walking by.

“One time, the police stopped me,” Spruill said. “I thought they were gonna tell me I was playing too loud, or that I needed to move to a different spot. But they just looked at me and said, ‘You know why we’re here, right?’ I said no, and they were like, ‘We’re here for “Careless Whisper.”’ I played it for them. It was awesome.” 

A different time, a semitruck hauling vitamin water stopped in the middle of the road, halting  rush-hour traffic. Three truckers piled out, unconcerned by honking drivers, and—explaining they didn’t have cash for him—filled his donation bins with armfuls of bottles. He still hasn’t drunk them all. 

It’s these moments of connection and community, Spruill said, when he manages to bond with real people, that motivate him to perform every day.

“I love it,” he said. “I love connecting with tourists, with all kinds of people. I catch the morning and afternoon commuters, they know me. Everybody’s at somewhere different in their life, mentally. Busking can brighten their mood, brighten their day. I see their appreciation every day.” 

Still, after nine hours of playing the Billboard Hot 100, Spruill can feel burnt out—or worse, bored. Although playing popular music elicits a greater response from passersby, it isn’t what Spruill loves to play most. 

“I love progressive rock. It’s my favorite genre, and it’s just … not popular at all. I can’t play that to the old people walking through Georgetown.”

It’s at these points, when Spruill plays not for the fickle crowd but for himself, that he feels most in tune with the music. His riffs transition from mimicking the smooth pop-inspired vocals of Post Malone to edgier, more complex rhythms that challenge and showcase his raw musical skill. 

“I’ve always been into personal growth—that’s what keeps me playing,” Spruill said. “When I can feel that energy from the crowd and I can feel that I’m getting better. It stops me from getting bored. I’ll pick up a complicated song to learn, and working on that gets me through the day.” 

Whether playing for others or himself, Spruill said he’ll busk for the rest of his life. He doesn’t plan on leaving the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and M Street anytime soon, either. You’ll probably find him there the next time you walk though Georgetown; just listen for “Careless Whisper.”

Cole Kindiger
Cole is a junior studying Journalism and American Studies. He enjoys rock climbing, people-watching, and reading impressive books in public places. When Cole isn't writing for the Voice, you can find him on Healy Lawn or sprawled across any couch on campus.

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