Any time I take Uber or Lyft, I make it a point to ask the driver for his or her or her story. “How long have you driven for Uber/Lyft,” I ask. “Do you have another line of work?” After all, as one who studies entrepreneurship, it would be almost a dereliction of duty for me not to query these budding entrepreneurs
And in the roughly three years I’ve had the Uber app, and roughly three weeks since I finally downloaded the app from Lyft, I have heard dozens of interesting stories from these drivers. There was the over-the-road trucker, the commodities broker, the town car driver who had driven celebrities such as Will Ferrell in the very car I was riding in, and quite a few moms with small children who liked the flexible hours for raising extra cash.
But until Wednesday night, I had never been picked up by an Uber or Lyft driver who has performed onstage at Washington, DC’s esteemed Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. That all changed when I ordered a Lyft car to take me late that evening from downtown Washington to my home in suburban Alexandria, VA. The driver kindly agreed to let me turn on the voice memo on my smartphone to interview him for FORBES.
My driver was Brent Gossett, the co-founder, manager and tuba player of DuPont Brass, a thirteen piece brass band that plays everything from jazz to patriotic tunes to pop classics like “Killing Me Softly.” The band was formed by Gossett – referred to in performances as Bass Heavy Slim – and his fellow Howard University music students in 2012. Formed in part to help pay the members’ tuition, the band started playing on the sidewalks in the DC neighborhood of Dupont Circle.
But now, in just a little more than three years, DuPont Brass’s sidewalk days are largely over. The band is now performing at more high-profile gigs. In addition to the Kennedy Center, DuPont Brass has performed at the club Gypsy Sally’s in the tony DC neighborhood of Georgetown, the acclaimed Cajun restaurant Bayou on Penn in Downtown DC, the DC Jazz Festival, and on WJLA’s popular local news show “Good Morning Washington.”
But Gossett, who has formed a limited-liability company (LLC) to manage the band, still finds winter months to be slow. The band doesn’t do as many shows then as fewer people go out in the cold. Unfortunately, that left the band out in the cold for income unless they played for tips at DC subway – or Metro — stops for tips.
But Lyft has helped ease that cash flow problem for Gossett. Now he can earn money in the slow season in a heated car, rather than on a freezing sidewalk.
“Lyft gives me the opportunity to make money when gigs are a little slow during the wintertime,” he says. “It just gives me a chance to keep on earning income while I focus on the business side of the music. It allows me to work when I want. If I get a [music] gig, I just say, ‘I’m not doing Lyft today.’”
On the controversy about whether companies like Uber and Lyft should offer full-time benefits, Gossett simply says, “I don’t have an opinion on that, because I’m not in this to be a full-time employee.”
It turns out that I wasn’t the only Chatty Cathy he has picked up. He says 60 percent of his passengers ask him for his story. He thinks they feel more comfortable if they know something about their driver. “They are riding with someone they don’t know, and they want to get to know the person,” he says.
Gossett gladly tells them about the band. He adds that it’s not uncommon to see some of those same passengers show up at later DuPont Brass shows.
I predict he will see another passenger at a show very soon: the one writing this blog.
For information upcoming performances of DuPont Brass, check out their web site, DuPontBrass.com.
Originally posted to Forbes.