CHAPEL HILL -- You might miss Danny Mason as he walks down the street. Dingy jeans, tattered jacket, baseball cap and a few bucks in his pocket, Mason is one of those nameless, faceless bodies just trying to get through the day.If you don't pay attention, though, you're going to miss out on a big part of what Chapel Hill is about. Music connects people from all walks of life in this town, and Mason is a household name in every venue in Chapel Hill."Danny is a local legend," says Mouse Mock, owner of The Cave on West Franklin Street. "I've known him since I had my first legal drink right here at the Cave." That was about 20 years ago.Everybody knows Mason, who's lived here all of his 49 years. If you take a walk with him, it'll take about two hours to get down Franklin Street. As he waits for his food at McDonald's, he runs into regulars."Hey, how's it going," says Jim Lilley as they embrace. "Is everything OK? I haven't seen you in a while."Jovial conversation, concern and well wishes dominate the conversation with each person he encounters.On the way out of McDonald's, Mason bums a cigarette off a couple of friends he calls Ralph and T-Baby, who he describes as local veterans shell-shocked from combat. As Mason crosses the street, he waves hello to the honking of car horns.Before he can get to the other side, a car pulls out of a driveway and stops in front of Mason. He looks, then laughs. Mason has to stop for a long conversation with Police Chief Brian Curran."I've known him for 18 years, maybe longer. He got me my first job at Four Corners working the video recorder and in return I got free drinks," Curran recalls. They share a few laughs.Curran pauses. "Where are you laying your head these days?" he asks, knowing Mason doesn't have a steady place to live.Until recently, Mason was staying with his grandmother, but circumstances changed and he now has to worry about where to sleep at night. Lately, Mason has been staying in a room that a friend has shared with him down on Main Street in Carrboro. The homeless shelter is not much of an option, since the rules have gotten stricter and he likes having the flexibility to play music at the local music venues.Mason has always gone where the music takes him. He used to be the equipment manager for Liquid Pleasure and would fill in for the drummer whenever needed."I was the light man sometimes; whatever was needed I would do it," he says.He's bopped around the Triangle and played with different bands: Rise, Flying Minds, Joe Bell and the Pattersons, just to name a few. The culture of band life and experimenting with drugs landed Mason in a life-long battle with a thorny side of life."Danny was always good at music growing up. I think he should have stayed with Liquid Pleasure. Working with them seemed to ground him a bit," says Nate Davis, director of Hargraves Community Center. "We used to have some good times growing up over on Merritt Mill," he adds, "but you know some of us made it and some of us didn't."If it makes music, Mason can work out a tune. He plays piano, guitar and drums. Born with a natural talent, music has taken him places he could never imagine, good and bad."I've seen things and done things I don't want to remember," he says. "I was in a dark place for a long time. Something got a hold of me and manipulated my emotions and I didn't feel creative anymore."He strayed from music for a long time. Recently he has been back and hanging out at his old and new watering holes.Mason is the house drummer now at Mansion 462. He helps set up the instruments, and he'll jam with other musicians before the main event some nights. Once in a while he'll fill in for a set or two. When he does, Mason is in the zone. He can play whatever song or genre you throw at him. It doesn't matter if he's heard it before. Once he hears the beat he can jam."I rely on Danny heavily when selecting bands for our schedule because he knows music and he knows the local scene," says Brad Waycaster, general manager at Mansion 462. "We love having Danny around."Mason never studied music; he just played from the soul. Someone would just start with a tune and whoever could keep up stayed in the jam. Danny Mason will always set the pace.In the evening when all the music stops Mason doesn't always know if he'll have a safe place to lay his head or a job to wake up to in the morning. Without the lights and the music, he returns to another one of those shadows that people pass without notice.