Former subway performer returns for 12-hour show

Peter Mulvey
Peter MulveySignature Sounds

In the 1990s, Peter Mulvey was a 22-year-old MBTA subway station performer, waking up before sunrise to play for crowds of drowsy, overworked commuters.

The hours were strenuous, and the riders were often preoccupied, but Mulvey, a folk music singer-songwriter and recent Boston transplant, was determined to make a name for himself.

Nearly 25 years later, Mulvey has toured internationally, produced 15 albums , and moved back to his native city of Milwaukee. But this Sunday, he'll return to the place where he launched his career to host a 12-hour marathon benefit concert on Palmer Street in Cambridge.

"I love my life, and I love that I have this job where you make art," said Mulvey, 46. "But you travel around this earth, and you sing songs and drink wine and you start to think, 'That's how you make your living?' It drives one to think, 'Could I do a little bit more?'"

The concert, which will be played from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., will be made up of 12 45-minute sets and hundreds of songs. Mulvey will be playing his own music, in addition to a variety of covers, and audience members will have the opportunity to make song requests.


Admission to the concert is free, but audience members can make tips and donations. Anyone unable to attend can also stream the concert live on Concert Window and make donations online.

After expenses, Mulvey will also be donating half of the online and in-person proceeds to four nonprofit organizations: Zumix, Raw Art Works, the National Youth Science Foundation and the Passim School of Music.

Though the organizations focus on different fields of artistic and scientific study, Mulvey said they all function under one unifying mission — helping kids learn and grow.

"I have no children, but I have 17 nieces and nephews," he said. "Really, it's not about us anymore. ... It's about the people coming after you. It really ought to be about the next 50 years."


Passim School of Music, which runs Club Passim on Palmer Street, is the blanket organization arranging the benefit concert. Mulvey said he has worked with Passim for many years, and is preparing for the Club's fifth annual one-room music festival, the Lamplighter Sessions, that he helps curate.

This year's festival will be held Oct. 28 to Nov. 1.

Though Mulvey said preparing for shows is a different process than preparing for marathon music concerts, where passersby can come and go, he said he prefers the latter.

While a two-hour show lets the artist draw a picture for the listener, he said, a 12-hour music marathon lets the artist paint a entire landscape.

Playing for 12 hours is tiring, but the long hours bring him back to his subway performance days.

"I have this weird theory that this is what I'm suited to do," he said. "For example, I feel fine bicycling 30 miles, but I feel really warmed up and in a stride when I bike 80, 100 miles. I don't really take time off. I kind of need to always be in motion."

Though Mulvey hopes the benefit concert will help the four nonprofit organizations he chose, he also hopes to instill the audience members with an appreciation for music that goes beyond the digital age of music-sharing.

"The one hidden thing that I am trying to bring out in this is that the music industry is in a kerfuffle right now because of streaming and no one is buying records ... and those are all real problems, but music is not bound by any of that stuff," he said. "Music is not an object. Music can't be kept. Music is only something that happens and then is given away in that moment completely free to people's ears."


Felicia Gans can be reached at felicia.gans@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @FeliciaGans.