Abby the Spoon Lady and Ben Shirley perform “Li’l Liza Jane”

Banjo Ben and Abby the Spoon Lady

Banjo Ben and Abby the Spoon Lady playing in downtown Asheville.

This video of traveling buskers Abby the Spoon Lady (one of the few professional musical spoon players in the country) and Ben Shirley is arguably the most popular thing ever filmed for Busk Break. It’s not because they’re playing some ironic cover of an ’90s hit or something. (Unless you mean 1890s, perhaps.) It’s because they’re both stunningly talented. Or, if you want believe Abby’s take, it’s like 35 people watching the video 1,000 times each to learn how to play the spoons. Continue reading

Caster covers “I Wan’na Be Like You (The Monkey Song)”

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Caster performs in front of the Iron Sculpture in downtown Asheville, NC.

If there’s any song that provokes a completely surprised, totally unguarded smile, it’s the “I Wan’na Be Like You (The Monkey Song)” from the 1967 Disney film The Jungle Book. Add a banjo, a kazoo and a young busker just finding his voice, and you have a very light-hearted busking moment on the streets of Asheville. And, more than that, it’s an early glimpse at a performer who was slowly coming into his own. Continue reading

Balkan Death Grip perform “Men Trinkte Mashke”

Balkan Death Grip

Matt Heckler, Trevor Grassi and Jeff Loops, with unseen members of Balkan Death Grip, perform near Pritchard Park in downtown Asheville, NC.

Matt Heckler and Trevor Grassi lead this incarnation of Balkan Death Grip to hell and back. Well, maybe that’s a bit of a melodramatic way of putting it, but this is a highly melodramatic song. After all, it’s about a man who pays his way by shoveling coal in hell, who plays music that smells of gasoline and who, they say, is around “every time a ship goes down.” It’s also one of the most entertainingly over-the-top tunes ever performed in front of the Busk Break camera. Continue reading

Mister Gunn & The Pistol Packin’ Mamas perform “Caffeine”

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Aaron Gunn and friends perform his original tune “Caffeine” in front of the Woolworth Walk.

It’s not every musician that can write an entirely new song that also manages to feel timeless. That’s doubly true when their chosen genre is the nostalgia-driven jazz, blue and old-time hybrid that has been dominating the regional busking scene for the past several years. I was absolutely certain that “Caffeine” was a cover, like some jazzed-up, long-forgotten companion b-side to Clara Smith’s “Ain’t Got Nobody To Grind My Coffee.” But it turns out that it was written by a guy I’ve known for years. Continue reading