Musician Paddles From Gig To Gig

In this week's "Assignment America," Steve Hartman has the story of a performer who's not a show boater, he's a paddleboater.

It's never been an easy life -- the life of the traveling coffee house musician. You play every song accompanied by an espresso machine -- play every night hoping someone will look up from their vegan coffee cake and appreciate your art.

Twenty-two-year-old Chris Bell is in the middle of just such a tour, reports CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman.

"I see one guy that looks like he'll be listening," Chris says at one coffee house show.

"That's your dad," Hartman says.

"No, no," Chris says.

"Yes, that is your dad," Hartman insists.

"Well, two guys," Chris says.

Chris depends mostly on tips to cover his living and travel expenses. It's always been a thin profit margin, but when gas prices shot up recently, it could have been curtains for his career.

"I'm not mad, I mean it's just a fact of life, it happens, I just have to find a way around it," Chris says.

Which he did. For this summer's tour, Chris left the highway behind for a transportation route that really hasn't been practical since horsepower was actually horse power: the Erie Canal.

Built in 1825, it was really America's first super-highway, running nearly 400 miles from Buffalo to Albany. Chris started paddling it three weeks ago, picking up gigs along the way.

He even made a 50-mile side trip for a show in Ithica. From there we actually helped him get, by car, back to the canal where he is now making his way to the Hudson River. His final performance will be next month at a coffee house in New York City.

By canoeing, Chris says he will net twice as much money as he would driving.

And that is why Chris may have company pretty soon. Big corporations like General Electric are also rediscovering the Erie Canal - mostly for hauling heavy loads. In fact, canal authorities say the number of commercial trips on the canal has tripled this year.

"If it goes to five bucks a gallon, that means just to refill my tank, I have to sell ten CDs a show," Chris says.

Whether Chris is a harbinger or just another harmonica, he has at least focused attention on the often overlooked treasure that is the Eerie Canal - now if he can just do the same for himself.