Closed Roanoke greenways not stopping 'Urban Hobo' from playing his music

Published: Apr. 4, 2020 at 6:38 PM EDT
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In Roanoke, greenways are closed this weekend to encourage social distancing, but that isn't stopping one man from getting outside, just like he has for years.

John Smiley plays a little bit of music to break the silence of a usually bustling Roanoke Greenway, which was shut down Friday.

Smiley has been sitting by this greenway in Wasena, repairing bikes and performing almost every day for years. A global pandemic isn't changing that.

"I don't want to be at home," he said.

He's a 76-year-old free spirit, known as the 'Urban Hobo.' He calls his singing easy listening, even if few are, especially now with the greenways closed because of the coronavirus.

"I'm content whether people are around or they aren't; I'll play the same as I will for one or 100, it's the same, it doesn't matter to me," Smiley said.

His passion for performing grew from watching his own grandparents play for others.

"When I was a teenager, my grandmother taught me how to play a little bit and sing, people would come home, she would play and sing for them, she would entertain, this is before radio, and my grandfather would tell stories, so I kind of do both," he said.

Smiley says he finds his true happiness in music and the outdoors.

"I like it outside, I'm not much of staying in too much, if I can go out I'm going to be going, pretty much been that way my whole life," he said.

He's seen a few people out and about on the greenway since it closed, but no matter the crowd, his singing won't stop.

"It's just you know, I enjoy doing it!" Smiley said.

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