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Subway cellist says attack 'hurt like hell,' and now wants more protection for performers

Iain Forrest, who is part of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s performing arts program Music Under New York, decided to stop playing in the subway after the assault. 

A musician who was assaulted while performing in the New York City subway last week is now calling for increased safety measures for fellow artists. 

Iain Forrest, a 29-year-old electric cellist who performs under the name “Eyeglasses,” told NBC News that he is forming a coalition to push for stronger protections for subway musicians after he was attacked at the 34th Street Herald Square train station in Manhattan last week. 

subway attack musician cello player @eyeglasses.stringmusic
Musician Iain Forrest is attacked by an unidentified woman at the 34th Street and 6th Avenue subway station in New York on Feb. 13.@eyeglasses.stringmusic via Instagram

Video of the incident shows the unidentified woman watching Forrest as he performs. She then grabs his metal water bottle from the ground and bashes him in the back of the head before fleeing. Police are currently calling on the public to help identify the woman. 

Forrest, who said the attack “hurt like hell,” did not sustain any long-term injuries. But the incident prompted the cellist, who is part of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s performing arts program Music Under New York, to decide to stop playing any more subway performances. 

“There’s definitely a level of weariness and caution that you have to have when you’re operating in such a public and potentially dangerous situation,” Forrest, who’s also a medical student, said of performing in the subway. “That’s why we started this program … to try to call for more safe conditions for these performers in the subway, who are all too often attacked and harassed. That way we try to make it a safer and more enjoyable experience for everybody.” 

The assailant was last seen wearing a brown fur coat, a black winter hat, a burgundy scarf and a crossbody bag, according to the NYPD. 

“My wife, my closest friends, colleagues, everybody was very dismayed and concerned about that — it shakes me to my core to imagine what would happen to all those people if I weren’t here,” he said. “That’s part of the motivation of why I unfortunately have to make this very gut-wrenching decision.” 

It was second time Forrest, who has been playing in subway stations for about seven years, has been attacked in less than a year, he said. After the previous incident, Forrest said that the NYPD had provided officers to keep an eye on him during his performances for a few weeks. It was a helpful gesture, he said, but he’s hoping for more. 

“That was fantastic for a month or two, but it was just for me, so it didn’t benefit the other musicians and it was only temporary, because we understand they have limited resources,” he said. 

subway musician attacker
Video of the suspect in the subway attack on Iain Forrest this month.NYPD

While the NYPD records information on reported attacks, Forrest said he is advocating for more data to be collected around subway performers specifically. 

“There’s just no tally or that simple counting and tracking of specifically musicians being attacked,” he said. “Once we have eyes on those trends, and you see, ‘OK, well look, it’s against solo musicians who are at 34th Street Herald Square at the evening rush hour.’ Once you have that information you can better give resources to prevent that from happening with the NYPD.”