Austin Sprague, a 14-year-old street performer, seeks fame not fortune.
You can see him playing saxophone on the corner of N. Wisner and W. Argyle in Jackson, but you may be able to hear the clear and bright melody before you see him. He really can play — that’s why so many people give him donations. Others just pay him in positive affirmations, of which Austin is content with. This 14-year-old street performer is not doing it just for the money.
“I get adrenaline rushes,” Austin says. “If you get people saying good job and stuff it gives me an adrenaline rush and it helps me concentrate and learn better.”
Though the money is appreciated, it’s a very good thing that that is not the sole purpose of Austin’s public panhandling. Sometimes people aren’t as nice as you’d like to think.
His mother Melissa Sprague, she told MLive, that he was just as likely to hear a “Get a job,” or a “You suck” as a kind word or a dollar.
Through all the cold weather, cold people, and whatever other strange weather or circumstance Michigan has come up with, Austin says that the distant dream of fame is enough to motivate him to stick through the elements, the insults, and the pain.
“When someone says that you can’t become famous it makes me want to become famous even more,” Austin says. “I have an ambition. My mind is already set that I want to become famous one day.”
Who doesn’t want fame? It’s a potent motivator as any! His mother agrees. She supports him by waiting out there with him while he plays to oncoming traffic. It also provides them an opportunity to bond.
“I’m not out there for myself. I am out there for him, he wants to do this,” Sprague says. “He wants to be famous.”
Just a few years ago though, both Austin Sprague and his mother could have been arrested. In 2013, laws against peaceful panhandling were stricken from the books. And with good riddance. The law against peaceful begging or panhandling in public was in the same category as “A common prostitute” or “A window peeper.”
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette argued that the state’s law was constitutional because panhandlers and beggars could be lying and that the law protected against fraud. However, most agree that it is not up to the state to decide whether or not a peaceful panhandler like Austin is committing fraud.
Others argue that these laws punish the most vulnerable of people and really only camouflage poverty. If you arrest a beggar, it clears them off of the street, but are they any less homeless in jail?
Luckily for people like Austin, this series of laws was considered unconstitutional. The courts decided that Michigan would be better prepared to deal with fraud “by a statute that, instead of directly prohibiting begging, is more narrowly tailored to the specific conduct, such as fraud, that Michigan seeks to prohibit.”
Austin has since used any money received while playing saxophone for the citizens of Jackson on shoes for his siblings and new instruments, and we’re glad he has the ability to do this. With ambition like that, fame is just around the corner. Keep on playing, Austin!