NORTHAMPTON — Joel Turcotte of Holyoke has played the drums in the downtown area before, but Saturday was a first. He wore a mask of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
But don’t call Turcotte a Trump fan. At his feet was a sign that revealed that while he may wear the mask, he is not a supporter.
“Make America Groove Again P. S. I don’t actually like Trump,” the sign read.
Turcotte, 22, said he thinks Trump is an “idiot,” but his performance wasn’t politically motivated. He just did it to make people laugh.
“Since about 99 percent of Northampton hates Trump anyway, I figured it would go over well,” Turcotte said. “I figured people would dig it. They seem to be liking it.”
Turcotte’s performance comes when even many elected Republicans are rebuking Trump. Following a story from the Washington Post on Friday about a video in which Trump brags about assaulting women, some two dozen Republican congressmen and governors rescinded their support of their presidential nominee or called for him to drop out of the race entirely.
Turcotte teaches drumming lessons at Berkshire Hills Music Academy, a school in South Hadley for young adults with intellectual disabilities. He also teaches private lessons and at the Springfield Conservatory of Music. Turcotte plays in a band called Writing in the Skies, which often plays shows in Florence.
According to Turcotte, who donned a suit for the performance, the music he was playing Saturday was all improvised.
“I’m just jamming,” Turcotte said with a shrug. “I’m essentially practicing on the street in a Trump mask.”
Turcotte obtained a street performance permit about three months ago, he said. He got the idea for the performance Thursday and bought the mask Saturday at Faces on Main Street. His friends Tina Andreski, of Westfield, and Jared Herman, of Southampton, helped him set up the drum kit and snapped photos as he performed.
“He’s just goofing around making people laugh,” Andreski said.
People walking by agreed the performance brought humor to what they said feels like a never-ending election cycle. At the height of the performance, some two dozen people stood around snapping photos.
“This is funny in light of a terrible situation,” said Amber LaFrancis, 27. “Why not have a guy with a Trump mask playing the drums downtown? This election feels like a big joke.”
LaFrancis said she was happy to see people coming together to watch the street performance in an election that feels divided. As Turcotte played, people on the street snapped photos, took videos using the Snapchat app and sat down on the curb to listen. A group of teenage athletes on a school bus held their smartphones up to the window to capture the performance as they drove by.
Mike Woods, of Easthampton, sipped a coffee as he watched Turcotte’s performance. Though he has not decided who he will vote for, he said he likes some of Trump’s ideas.
“I like Trump. He has some good ideas. You’ve got to remember he can’t do anything without Congress, so I don’t know what everybody is so scared about. Sure he’s got some ideas, but he can’t do all of them without everybody else,” Woods said. “I’m worried about Hillary not being able to make tough decisions.”
Woods said Turcotte making a joke of Trump didn’t bother him, though it might have decades ago.
“I’m 66 years old. Nothing bugs me. I go with the flow,” Woods said. “I used to get mad when I was younger, but I’m just here to watch today.”
Elaine Wert, who lives on State Street, was another member of the crowd. She stood on the sidewalk smiling as she watched Turcotte’s performance.
“I think it’s hysterical. I love his sign,” Wert said. “I think it’s great. I really do.”
Wert, who attends First Churches, said she loves when people play music outside the building. She said she was a big Bernie Sanders supporter during the Democratic primary. She was less focused on the political aspect of the performance Saturday, and said she simply enjoys when people perform downtown.
“We love having people play music. We would never chase anyone away,” Wert said.
Dan McCarthy, one of the owners of Faces, agreed the performance was a nice bit of comic relief. McCarthy said he was glad a mask purchased at his store could make people laugh.
“A little bit of humor is good, especially with what we’re dealing with,” McCarthy said.
According to McCarthy, Trump masks have been flying off the shelves. The store has ordered two shipments of masks so far and might place another order before Halloween. McCarthy said he started with a single shipment of 10 Trump masks. When they sold out, he ordered another 10 Trump masks and 10 Clinton masks.
“The Trump masks are going quicker,” McCarthy said. “We’ve sold probably twice as many Trump masks so far.”
He said most of the merchandise pokes fun at Trump
But the quickest-selling political merchandise at Faces this election cycle has not been in the likeness of Trump or Clinton.
Earlier this year, Bernie Sanders merchandise was most popular.
“In the summer, we couldn’t keep Bernie stuff on the shelves,” McCarthy said. “I’d order 48 pairs of Bernie socks and 24 pairs of Clinton and Trump socks. Even then, I’d run out of the Bernie socks first.”
And that makes sense, as many watching Turcotte’s performance Saturday said they wished Sanders was on the Democratic ticket.
“This (performance) speaks to the entire show, that’s what you can call it. The election feels like a show,” LaFrancis said. “Our one hope was Bernie, and he’s gone now.”