The Traveling Violinist


Success is often measured through material means, but while others dream of having the best house, the best car and the most money, Dante Howlstice seeks a wealth of experience.

Howlstice plays his violin at Balboa Park in San Diego and has traveled 27 states as a street musician since the age of 20.

Success was not immediate, however, and sacrifices were necessary for Howlstice to pursue his passion as a violinist.

“Sometimes chasing after passions and dreams means giving up other things,” Howlstice said. “Sometimes they’re easy like not living in a typical home, others are harder like essentially not having a family. I’ve become estranged to everyone I grew up with so that I can grow and experience things. But if it’s something you truly care about then it’s all worth it, and you do gain new people, new friends and parental figures.”

Howstice said one such figure includes Sleeveless the Magician, who Howlstice joins every year for Thanksgiving at his house.

“He’s retired now, but there used to be a magician who came out here, and he was Sleeveless the Magician,” Howlstice said. “He’s lived here all his life, and he did magic until he was 60 before retired, and he would clean up. People love magic. And he would come out and make 500 each day on the weekends, so he’d get 1000 a week, 4000 a month, and that’s what he would do.”

Sleeveless was a model for success, and Howlstice soon began to see a future playing violin for the rest of his life, but he had many doubts when he first began.

“I felt stupid,” Howlstice said. “There’s a saying in the Navy, ‘young, dumb and full of cum.’ The worst thing is I didn’t know how to budget when I was young. I would eat out all the time at restaurants which was very expensive. Now, I’m a lot better, and I actually save money instead of spend it.”

For the first year, Howlstice received little support from his family, who thought his goals were unrealistic and hoped to keep him safe.

“I have my parents, two people who are supposed to support you no matter what, and I had both of them say that I wouldn’t be able to do it, that I shouldn’t do it and that they were completely against it,” he said. “I didn’t say FU, but I kind of did. My actions said FU because this is what I want to do. I don’t care if I’m living in a mansion or living in my car.”

Howlstice lives in a car that he parks in the shade to prevent sun damage to the instruments inside.

“I throw around the word homeless a lot since I live in a car, but personally I don’t consider it the same because I do have a roof over my head that I own at the end of the night,” he said. “To me, that’s what matters. The car is actually kind of nice because it lets me travel, and it saves me lots of money.”

From seeing autumn leaves for the first time in Cleveland to swimming in the Niagara Falls in summer, Howlstice uses his car as a home base to pursue a life of constant discovery. Howlstice said rivers and waterfalls are his favorite places to visit, and one of his best experiences came at Bridal Veil Falls in Oregon.

“You can hike up the mountain if you want to, and you can see the whole river between Washington state and Oregon at the top of the mountain,” Howlstice said. “It’s one solitary fall that it goes into a pool, and there’s this giant boulder next to the pool. This thing is like 30 feet high, and you can climb on top of it and jump into the pool, which is stupidly reckless, but fun!”

Howlstice has also played with wolves at a wolf sanctuary and attended 18 anime conventions in the three years since becoming a traveling violinist. He is saving his money now instead, however, for a visit to Thailand.

“I hear that Thailand is the backpacking capital because it’s so easy,” Howlstice said. “Thailand is famous for these mountains in the middle of the ocean that form a giant bay. It seems like a really cool place to go and it’s really cheap. I’ve had friends go, and they say if they pay more than 35 cents for a meal, they get mad because that’s how cheap it is.”

Howlstice said the money he earns for the trip often varies each time he plays, but generally he makes about 20 to 40 dollars an hour.

“Me, I don’t have a steady paycheck,” he said. “Some weeks I do better, some weeks I do worse. Sometimes I make 700 dollars in one night, but I’ve had days where I played two hours and made five dollars, which is utterly depressing, but that actually hasn’t happened in a long time, which I’m very proud to say.”

The unpredictability of his source of income and lack of personal contact are part of the reason Howlstice cannot recommend his lifestyle for everyone, but he said people should at least put one solid effort into pursuing their dreams, no matter how unorthodox or uncertain the results.

 “If you really like something, if you’re passionate about something, then no matter what anyone says, you’ll go for it,” Howlstice said. “If a job that you hate, but pays the bills isn’t even 100 percent guaranteed, why would you just go for that straight off the bat and not go for your passions? I’d rather go for my passions, fail, then do what I hate.”

This mindset began to take root when Howlstice began his first conventional job at a bookstore, which became his first inspiration to pursue a more independent career.

“One of the worst experiences of my life was that bookstore,” Howlstice said. “Now, I like books a lot, so I thought I’d enjoy it. The bookstore was a mess, so I was hoping I’d get to fix it, but they stuck me on the cash register, and I had to deal with people. One time I got yelled at by my boss because a woman came in looking for a book. She says:

-‘I’m looking for a book.’

So I say:

-‘OK, what’s it called?’

-‘I don’t know.’

-‘What’s it about.’

-‘I’m not sure, but the cover was blue.’

I got in trouble because I couldn’t find that book, and I’ll never forget that. From that point on I decided I wasn’t going to work a typical job.”

During high school, Howlstice also enjoyed participating in JROTC, which prepared him for a job as an Electronics Technician in the Navy. While he was stationed at Great Lakes Navy Base for school, colloquially known as ‘Great Mistakes,’ he was able to pursue an interest in the violin, which he had played for four years in middle school.

“In my barracks at Great Mistakes, there was this one lady who played violin,” he said. “I just started wanting to play again, so I bought a violin, and she was in the choir and got me into the choir. It was my job to practice basically, so I’d spend sometimes eight hours a day playing.”

After two years in the Navy, however, Howlstice was medically discharged and went home to live near his family in Tampa, Fl.

“On my DD214 it said undefined personality disorder,” Howlstice said. “It’s never affected me, so I don’t think it’s that big a deal, but they said they couldn’t have me. I just accepted it.”

Howlstice was unable to find a job in Tampa, which encouraged him to try a more unorthodox method of earning money. He decided to play at a nearby mall and made 90 dollars in three hours.

“The first time I did it, I spent about two hours walking between my car and the spot I wanted to play working up the courage,” he said. “Now I’ve been doing it for three and a half years, so it’s just another day.”

Because most malls have a policy against performers, he began travelling to find places he could play and, through a series of trial and error, eventually found tourist attractions like Balboa Park that encourage bussing, which allows him greater freedom to perform.

“Usually I’ll start with Greensleeves,” Howlstice said, referring to the English folk song. “Obviously, I play some classical, but my favorite things to play is definitely gypsy music, folk music and what I consider my folk music is video game music.”

Readers can listen to a clip of Howlstice’s performance above, including portions of Hungarian Dance No. 5 and Für Elise.