After almost a year of planning, countless Skype calls, and complications with passports, Larry Hunt, the "Bucket Man" who drums on Market Street, returned to S.F. two weeks ago after spending nine days in Europe on an appropriately strange tour. It was his first trip out of the United States.
Hunt was flown in to play Interpack 2014, one of the world's biggest packaging fairs, there to show the assembled manufacturing companies one of the less-orthodox uses for their product. Alain Tasma of the Dutch packaging company HK Plastics met Hunt in 2013 during a visit to San Francisco, and had been trying ever since to bring Hunt to Dusseldorf, Germany, to do what he does every day at Fourth and Market. For the makers of buckets and other packaging materials, a bucket artist was a big deal indeed: While Hunt's recent appearance in an Intel commercial has made him somewhat of a local celebrity, he was apparently treated like royalty in Europe.
"We had been in the hotel in Germany for a couple days when the hotel manager realized he was the 'Bucket Man' and upgraded him to his own suite," says Tasma. "He was the guest of honor."
During his seven days in Germany, Hunt drummed at the HK booth — as well as the booths at several other Dutch packaging companies — for eight hours a day, often in front of 400 to 500 people. According to Tasma, Hunt made friends wherever he went, encouraging his new pals in the Dutch packaging industry to come to San Francisco, and bringing children up to let them play. When it was time for him to return to San Francisco, the Dutch Packaging Federation gifted him with an iPad. Reportedly, there were tears.
What made a street musician from San Francisco so popular in the European packaging world? Maybe it was the fact that he had come all the way from San Francisco. Maybe it was the frequent mentions of his name in the Dutch papers since it was first announced that HK Plastics was bringing someone from California to represent them at Interpack. Or maybe it was simply Hunt's undeniable talent on the drums. Well, buckets. Well, both.
"They liked him as one of their own," says Tasma. "People see that he's different. He takes a lot of energy from you, but he gives you a lot of energy as well. It's a win-win situation."
"Believe in yourself, don't give up, I believe in myself, I don't give up," sings Hunt in one of the videos of his performance at Interpack, accidentally creating what is perhaps the anthem for his journey. Tasma first mentioned the trip to Hunt almost a year ago, but neither of them knew if Hunt would be able to go to Europe until a week and a half before he was scheduled to be there. Getting passports, making travel plans, keeping in touch with the sometimes-difficult-to-reach Hunt: The Bucket Man's Interpack Tour at times seemed like it would fall apart. But:
"This was a once in a lifetime for us, and for him," says Tasma. "I think he had a marvelous time."
Hunt also spent some time at the HK Plastics factory in Almelo, Netherlands, where he was able to observe the process behind the making of his instrument of choice. According to Hunt, it takes eight seconds and nine machines to make one bucket. In honor of his appearance at Interpack, HK Plastics cranked out several personalized "Bucket Man" buckets, each adorned with a picture of Hunt in front of the Golden Gate Bridge.
We caught up with Hunt back in San Francisco the week after his trip. Sporting several new dress shirts, a jacket with "The Bucketman" inscribed on one sleeve, and a Bucket Man bucket in his repertoire — all courtesy of HK — you never would have guessed that Hunt had just returned from his first trip out of the U.S.
But things returned to Hunt's version of normal as soon as he returned.
Although he was treated like a VIP in Europe, Hunt was bombarded with the usual noise complaint drama as soon he returned to San Francisco, despite the deal he made with a police sergeant several months ago that he could play at Fourth and Market every weekday from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.
"It really eats me up," says Hunt, looking exhausted as he sets up his drum set. "I just got back and I have to deal with this again."
So, what's next for the Bucket Man?
Touring with Leon Hendrix, as it turns out. Yes, Hendrix, as in brother to Jimi.
The details are fuzzy, but apparently both Hunt and his bassist, Brian Compton, were recruited by a "British promoter guy" named Ian to play at the Cambridge Rock Festival alongside Hendrix. Compton produced an email from Hendrix detailing the itinerary of the festival, so it looks like it's for real. Hey, stranger things have happened. Like a Dutch businessman sending a street musician from San Francisco to Germany to drum on buckets at a packaging fair, for example.
"I'm just at the right place at the right time," said Hunt the week before he embarked on his journey. "I just do what I do." According to the Bucket Man's recent track record, this is apparently true. Drumming on buckets on Market Street earned him a trip to Germany, an appearance in an Intel commercial, the chance to play a show in England with Jimi Hendrix's brother, and new fans. As for the noise complaints? Eh, price of fame.