Liberty Tax sign brings music around the corner from Ohio

Chase Watkins is screaming.

Electric guitar in hand, he stands in front of a laundry and a gas station. In front of an SUV displaying an American flag, he shouts into a microphone.

He’s a Martian from the moon, he says, and his skin is turning green. Behind sunglasses, he sings of space. He sings food commercials on the side of delivery trucks. He sings about how he came here 10,000 years ago. And when a car screeches through a busy intersection in West Chester Township, Watkins sings about death on the corner. Tylersville Road.

He wears a green robe.

Tax season is here, and so are the hesitant Liberty Tax signs

It’s not what the 27-year-old imagined when he moved here to attend the University of Cincinnati. College-Conservatory of Music. It’s not what he imagined in 2019, before the pandemic, when he played bass for multiple bands with many shows one week.

Dressed in a Lady Liberty costume, where he basically does interactive advertising for a neighbor Tax office, it may seem like a cumbersome job. That might sound like a bad job, especially since Watkins started in January and was consistently playing music in sub-zero temperatures.

He doesn’t look at it that way. Because music is his therapy, and the pandemic almost took that away from him. Last year, instead of playing guitar, he drove for DoorDash and did odd jobs through a handyman app. Now, in front of a dog groomer and in a parking lot where Girl Scouts sometimes sell cookies, Watkins dances like someone at a music festival.

It’s the man with the guitar. Standing on the corner man. Shout out to the man of the world. Living her dream man.

On this day in March, Watkins plugs his amplifier into a 2,000 watt inverter with what looks like jumper cables attached to a battery in the grass. That day, like most days, his handyman tools are in the car – a memory of more desperate times. On this day, he doesn’t need hand warmers and gloves with holes drilled into his fingertips.

It’s almost 70 degrees.

The people of Tylersville Road cheer on Chase Watkins as he performs dressed as Lady Liberty.

During a break, Watkins burns incense and slips it between the strings of his guitar. It’s a perfume his mother used to burn when he was 2 years old. The smell takes him back to childhood, to a time before his anxiety. At a time when his mother threw bluegrass parties as an excuse to listen to music.

Until a time when he needed money and needed Craigslist to find a job.

Today, on a beautiful spring day, Watkins is out for a walk. He’s anxious, he always has been. But that’s exactly where it belongs, talking about Kurt Vonnegut and sing whatever he thinks of. Wait a minute, he’s a Martian from the moon. The next day he is a weary cowboy, tired from the dusty road he has traveled.

Watkins may look silly, but he plays well. It might surprise you how much. It might surprise you, this is what chasing your dreams can look like.

To him, it looks like a laptop on a card table you’d find in someone’s garage. It looks like muddy tennis shoes and a backpack full of notebooks. It sounds like fingers mashed into a keyboard and a few beats on a drum machine. It sounds like a guitar solo, with a loop pedal mixing it all up and a button turning it all into a wall of sound.

One day, after the invasion of Ukraine, Watkins plays Jimi Hendrix anti-war songs so loudly that the police show up. Another day, he drives past cars with a small acoustic guitar that looks like a ukulele. One day, he stands on a snow bank several feet high holding a sign. Another day, he breaks a guitar string, stuffs the pick in his mouth and plays on a small keyboard while tightening the guitar.

The same day, he cuts his finger solo.

A Craigslist ad for college dropouts

Before the pandemic, Watkins played in multiple bands several times a week. In 2020, that all but stopped, as did his music teaching. Eventually, he moved in with his parents in Columbus.

He stayed there for over a year.

Now he says the phrase “pre-pandemic” a lot. Because at the start of the pandemic, he meditated every day. He spent time outside and made music. He quickly got burned.

Soon, when he thought of music – or creating anything – he could only think of money. And how he didn’t have one. It made him anxious and he stopped playing the guitar for months. This winter, Watkins planned to visit friends in California and survive by driving for Uber or doing DIY.

He was hoping to record an album.

Instead, he was working toward a computer programming certificate when a YouTube commenter mentioned the job on Craigslist. Watkins looked, and that’s when he saw a sign shaker position at Liberty Tax. He didn’t want a full-time job, but needed something to pay his rent. He asked for 20 hours a week.

When the company’s training video featured people juggling, Watkins asked if he could play guitar. When the answer was yes, he asked if he could do it 40 hours a week.

Chase Watkins plays his guitar at the intersection of Tylersville and Cincinnati-Dayton roads.

In this corner of the suburbs, Watkins enters for 10 or 15 seconds in the life of motorists at red lights. Some lower their windows, others raise them. Some watch, others try not to watch. Some are honking, a few knocked it over.

In many ways, the reaction doesn’t matter. Because Watkins plays music. And he gets paid to do it.

On a sunny day in March, someone drives by and shouts, “I love you.” This person hangs out the car window while Watkins plays another guitar solo. He doesn’t hear it.

This is what dreams look like.