Reed City street musician overcomes job loss, homelessness

Antonio Aguilar 'It's the guitar that's kept me afloat'

REED CITY — The sounds of drums, guitars, vocals, strings, and even brass instruments reverberating through city streets or subway tunnels are familiar to those who have lived in highly urbanized areas. For Reed City, however, hearing musician Antonio Aguilar's sound of Spanish-inspired alternative rock comes as a bit more of a surprise to those walking around downtown.

Aguilar plays alternative rock inspired by the band Modest Mouse, as well as singer-songwriter songs inspired by Bob Dylan, John Prine, and Gordon Lightfoot. 

Born in Mexico, (though he identifies as Chicano) to migrant parents, Aguilar first got introduced to music through his uncle who gave him his guitar when he was eight years old. 

"It's taken 35 years, minus eight, to even fathom playing in front of anybody," Aguilar said.

Aguilar was a mechanic for 15 years before COVID-19 caused him to lose his job at a repair shop. About the same time, Aguilar lost his wife and kids, and house, due to their divorce.

"It's the guitar that's kept me afloat, kept me fed, paid my bills. Being a musician, all those years of practice, have started to pay off," Aguilar said.

He was doing ridesharing, relying heavily on his vehicle, which was recently totaled when he hit a deer.

"I'll take my guitar on my back even if I'm just walking everywhere, so why don't I just try to focus on this," Aguilar said.

Aguilar also had a Martin guitar recently get destroyed, and thankfully he has a friend offering him a place to stay. Other than that, he is homeless and without a vehicle, relying on his art to help him survive and pay the bills.

Rather than focusing on getting gigs at bars and restaurants, Aguilar just started playing street corners, parks, and other places where people gather.

"I wake up and the world is my canvas, it's a beautiful thing," he said.

He has run into some roadblocks with the city of Reed City when it comes to his street performances. Despite getting the OK from the city manager, local law enforcement has told him to stop playing several times, so he headed back to the city council to get official variances.

"They don't understand that this is ancient, from the start of humanity, there have been people playing instruments," Aguilar said. 

First Amendment rights protect Aguilar when it comes to expressing his art, but it's the fact that he uses an amplifier to make his guitar and vocals a little louder that has gotten him into some trouble with the city. 

"It's something beautiful. I'm not gonna say I'm great, it's music in itself, and guitar, and the sounds that a human being can express on it, some people appreciate it, some people don't. It's not for everybody, I get it. Nevertheless, it's not illegal," Aguilar said.

Aguilar has six children and hopes to leave the world a better place for them.

He has a YouTube channel, Amigo Bandido, as well as a LinkTree, which is linktr.ee/amigobandido.

He has a GoFundMe on this page where people can donate to support his well-being, and help him continue his lifelong dream of playing music.