Banjo Ben and Abby the Spoon Lady

Abby the Spoon Lady and Banjo Ben perform “Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss”

Banjo Ben and Abby the Spoon Lady
Banjo Ben and Abby the Spoon Lady, enjoying the busking life in Asheville, NC.
Here’s an experiment: Take two standard metal soup spoons. Turn them so that the curved bottoms are facing each other, and place them between your fingers like chopsticks. Now, try to clack them in time with any moderately paced song. It should take you about 45 seconds to begin to appreciate just how good Abby the Spoon Lady is at her profession, and you haven’t even done any of the hard stuff yet.

And that’s not to dismiss Banjo Ben. Playing any instrument at his level takes years of dedication, practice and passion. Few instruments can be said to be the favorites of folks like Steve Martin and Al Capone, but we can understand if the limelight is stolen for a few moments by a virtuoso performance on clicky-clacky silverware.

Although I haven’t seen Ben since shortly after this video was recorded, Abby still comes through Asheville a few times each year. I’ve come to truly love watching Abby play, which just goes to show how wrong my first impression of her was. For context, on any given day, downtown Asheville is filled to the brim with two types of people: Would-be artists/creative types and homeless people who have ended up here because it’s a relatively safe place with several support organizations.

To be honest, when I first encountered Abby and Ben on the streets of Asheville, I thought they were drug addicts. That’s largely because I’ve personally encountered a lot of music-playing drug addicts on the streets of Asheville, and a lot of them have the same home-tattoo, tattered-clothes style that blends over into the busker fashion sense. A lot of homeless drug addicts end up busking for the same reason some turn to prostitution: It’s a way to make money to feed the addiction that doesn’t require you to show up at any given time. But Ben and Abby aren’t addicts.

In fact, Abby is quite outspoken against drug use. I’ve heard too many stories about her running off drug dealers who are “selling poison to my friends” to believe otherwise. And both she and Ben were way too lucid, competent and together to be addicted to anything other than music. As soon as I spent a few moments listening to them, and later, talking, I started to feel a little bad about my prejudice. (In fact, the only person who appears to be on drugs in this video is me, as I was in my “never stop moving the camera even if it makes you feel seasick” phase.)

That loss would have been entirely mine, and not talking to them would have been a huge loss for the Busk Break project. I don’t mean in terms of views, as Abby and Ben’s videos are by far the most popular of the early Busk Break series, but in terms of the perspective I’ve gotten on the traveling busking world from my few conversations with Abby and her friends.


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Steve Shanafelt

Steve Shanafelt used to think he was a writer. Lots of other people thought he was a very good one, and they paid him to write everything from news articles to erotic comic books. Then, a few years ago, he started to realize that writing was just one very tiny piece of the puzzle. He started recording podcasts, producing field recordings of busking musicians, making short video series and learning how to make websites. Along the way, he learned lots of ways not to manage businesses and how to promote those businesses online. Now, people pay him surprisingly large sums of money to show them some of the things he's picked up.