Marathon Man

Eugene musician to find biggest audience when he makes New York City debut

Bob Clayton has led a relatively ordinary life. He went to college, works a daily job for Lane Council of Governments as a database administrator and has two grown kids. Clayton has also long been passionate about music, an avocation that doesn’t make enough money to provide a living for him on its own.

But now, the 51-year-old musician wants to start having new life experiences, so he is playing guitar at the New York City Marathon on Sunday, Nov. 4.

For the past six years, Clayton has performed at Eugene’s 10k Butte to Butte run. He sets up a sound system next to the Dari Mart on West Amazon Parkway and organizes an hour of guitar solos accompanied by his own backing tracks.

“It’s always one of the highlights of my year,” Clayton says. “I get a lot of good feedback.”

After years of growing his guitar skills and entertaining runners of Eugene, Clayton dreamed of playing for something bigger. Although his marathon guitar-playing experience was limited, he strongly felt he had to aim as high as he could, so he took a chance on the New York marathon — the biggest marathon in the world. 

“I thought, why not shoot them an email,” he says. “I’m at the point now where I want to have really amazing life experiences. I can’t imagine a more thrilling life experience for my interests and guitar playing style to play for that event.”

About three days later, the marathon coordinators told him they loved the video he sent and wanted Clayton to play this year. He spent a week thinking it over, trying to decide if her could pull it off, and then committed.

“I thought, life can be unpredictable. Who knows what could happen between now and next November?” Clayton says. 

At least 20 bands play the marathon route, which starts in Brooklyn. Clayton will get his own little stage around the eight-mile mark, playing for the 50,000 people running by. In addition, he is also playing for a couple thousand people that are standing on the sidelines, watching the runners.

“It’s not nerve-racking because they only hear me for about a minute,” he says. 

After deciding to follow his spontaneous dream, Clayton is faced with new challenges of trying to coordinate equipment and travel — paying for everything out of pocket. He is estimating the cost to be around $2,500, the biggest expense being the gear rental. Clayton also faces the risk of not playing at all due to inclement weather, specifically heavy rains. 

“There is a risk element to this — I’m going to New York and maybe I won’t be able to play,” Clayton says. “It’s a risk you gotta take sometimes.”

Music has followed Clayton for most of his life. He plays guitar, drums and piano, and he has a side business where he creates backing tracks for instrument soloists. 

If playing in New York pans out, Clayton has considered going to Europe to play for the London Marathon, though he is working on a limited budget and limited vacation time. 

“If it turns out too stressful I might not do it anymore,” Clayton says. “I’m expecting it to be super fun. You just never know with these opportunities.”

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