Subway Cellist Calls off Performances After Valentine’s Day Attack

21 Feb, 2024 Liz Carey


Manhattan, NY ( – A medical student who performs with his electric cello in the subways of New York City said it’s too dangerous to continue.

Iain Forrest, a performer who is part of the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s Music Under New York program, was playing his cello before subway patrons at the 34th Street-Herald Square Station when a woman hit him in the head unprovoked.

Video of the attack showed the woman with a scarf covering her face, leaning nonchalantly against a pillar. At the time, Forrest was playing “Titanium” by Sia. Unprovoked, the woman then rushed up behind Forrest and grabbed his metal water bottle from the floor and hit him in the head. Video of the attack showed Forrest slumping to the ground as the woman ran away.

“I couldn’t quite get my bearings and it was only when I saw my metal water bottle rolling around on the ground and I saw the crowd’s face — in awe, disbelief and shock — that I realized, I think someone just smashed the back of my head with my metal water bottle,” Forrest, 29, told the New York Daily News.

Spectators in the crowd gathered to listen to Forrest came to his aid and showed him video of the attack on their phones.

“I was able to see for the first time, wow, this person did in fact smash my head with a bottle,” Forrest recounted. “An MTA worker then gave chase to them throughout the subway station and afterwards they told me when he came back that she had fled from the station aboveground.”

Officials said the woman changed clothes as she ran away and ducked into a nearby Macy’s.

Forrest, who had been part of the Music Under New York program for seven years, said the attack, and another assault in Times Square in May, meant the performance was his last for the foreseeable future.

“I’ve performed at Radio City Music Hall. I’ve performed at Yankee Stadium, Madison Square Garden. Those are great. But there’s always something exciting about a spontaneous performance in the subway that fans catch,” he said. “So it does kind of break my heart that this is something that has to stop indefinitely, barring some sort of systemic change with protection for performances in the subway.”

In May, a man beat and choked Forrest during his Times Square show and broke a part of his cello.

Police said Rendell Robinson, 40 attacked Forrest and tried to steal the money donated to Forrest as well as his instrument. Robinson was arrested and charged with robbery. His case is still pending, police said, and he is still being held at Rikers Island.

“I’ve got a wife. I’ve got a family and friends that care about me and I don’t know what they would do if I was gone,” Forrest said.

After the incident with Robinson, Forrest was assigned an NYPD officer to watch him during performances. The extra protection made him feel safe, he said.

“That was one or two months that they did that. Nothing really funny happened. But then that was apparently temporary and it was only protecting me. It wasn’t protecting other musicians from the program,” Forrest said. “And then here we are months later, this attack happened again to me, so at this point, I just made the very tough decision.”

The attack was one of several that have happened in the subway as violence against workers and others inside the subway system increase.

On Wednesday, a 58-year-old transit employee saw a 25-year-old homeless man sleeping on a bench in the Wall Street train platform around 6 a.m. When she tried to wake him, the man hit her in the face. Later, when a 34-year-old bystander saw the attack and tried to intervene, the homeless man hit him in the face as well. Both the MA worker and the bystander were taken to New York-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital with minor injuries.

Forrest was treated at the scene for his injuries, and police released a photo and a video of the attack on Friday, asking anyone with any information to call Crime Stoppers.

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    About The Author

    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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