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Best One-Woman Band San Francisco 2011 - Beat Feet Orchestra

By Lauren Smiley

Have you seen the Beat Feet Orchestra? Actually, the "orchestra" is just one musician: pint-sized Mahsa Matin. She has given the concept of the one-man-band a very San Francisco gender twist, tromping around the city with a bass drum, snare, and high hat that — strapped to her back — she plays by stomping her wire-rigged clown shoes.

And that's just the beat. Matin simultaneously strums a steel guitar and sings. The weight of all this musical hardware? About 50 pounds, a big load if you consider Matin is only 5-foot-2 and 115 pounds. "I always joke about making a workout video with the Beat Feet Orchestra," she says. "You sweat." When she played Prince's "Kiss" at the Day of the Dead in the Mission last year, she had a sizable group of the living beating their feet on the pavement, too.

The 26-year-old Matin is a true artistic pioneer, dropping out of the California Institute of the Arts a few years ago after deciding to pursue her true calling of clowning at the San Francisco Circus Center. Last year, she decided to make good on her lifelong one-woman-band dream. "Ever since I saw Mary Poppins," Matin says. "Bert is my hero." (That's Dick Van Dyke's role as the one-man band in the Disney film, if you recall.)

In her Charlie Chaplin-like suit and bowler hat, Matin ambles to North Beach, the Mission, and the Haight to play covers like Madonna's "Like a Virgin" and Prince's "Kiss" alongside finger-pickin' blues standards by Blind Boy Fuller. "I have to pick things people are really going to like," she says, "so they'll feel it in their nervous system." She works a fair amount of physical comedy into the act, too. During one recent gig, she toppled over onstage from the weight of the drum. "But I just kept with it," she recalls triumphantly. "I strummed the last chord on the floor upside down. Then I got up, and on the next song I did the same thing. And on the last one I'm like, 'Oh, I gotta do it again.' They didn't know the last two were plants. They're like, 'Again?' "

While Matin's gig wins over her audiences, it's been a tough sell to her father, a civil engineer in Southern California who fled Iran after the fall of the Shah in the 1970s. He wanted her to pursue a comfortable career that would ensure a stable life. Instead, Matin wants to graduate from mime school and take Beat Feet Orchestra on tour across Europe, earning money by playing as she goes. "I'm not doing so bad," she says. "I'm happy — that's the important part."

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