Andrew Steelsmith was taking a walk around his downtown San Diego neighborhood Tuesday night with his girlfriend when he heard someone singing from a few blocks away. The woman's soulful sound drew him in.
"I knew right off the bat …. She's quality. Her voice is amazing," he said. "I sat through three songs with my mouth wide open. … She's sitting there playing in a spot where there's normally a Greenpeace person or a crappy trumpeter, so it was sort of shocking to see her there sitting and playing."
Steelsmith, a marketing consultant at the Steelsmith Group, was so taken by her talent that he recorded her singing and decided to play a social media experiment with the video. He didn't know her name but took to the social news site Reddit.com to find out and get her noticed.
He posted the grainy video on YouTube under the title " Beautiful Musician on Sidewalk in Downtown San Diego," and wrote on Reddit: "I thought I'd share her with people that could appreciate a talented street musician."
Commenters quickly connected the dots. Her name is Charlie Rae, a 26-year-old singer/songwriter, who has opened for big names like Sheryl Crow, Pat Benatar, Leon Russell, HEART, Michelle Branch and more.
Rae recently moved to San Diego from Phoenix and took up street performing to maintain her voice.
"When I moved here, it was really hard for me to get in the scene," she said, explaining how a sax player she met at an open mic night suggested she perform on the street to say in tune.
She had had reservations about it, but took the plunge a month ago.
"I was so scared. I'm so used to the stage and lights and the production of it," she said. "It's been amazing singing out there, but at the same exact time it's been terrifying. It's been a huge growing experience for me."
Now, she sings a few nights a week for two hours at a time in the same spot outside the Balboa Theatre and gains a sizable crowd each time.
"Once I get into it, I can sing anywhere," she said. "My shows are about two hours so I try to keep that maintenance on my voice."
The night Steelsmith recorded the video Rae said she was about to leave for the night. Good thing she stuck around. The video has 359,000 views and counting, a number that blew Rae away.
"I was shocked at first because none of my videos had ever had more than 200 [views]," she said. "I was really, really happy. I was surprised at the song. I've got ones that are more poppy than that one. It made me really, really happy that people are responding to such a real song."
She's also been surprised by the number of emails she's received from producers, publishing companies and is looking forward to what's to come.
"It's really good timing," she said.