Tomb Nelson and the Stillwater Hobos perform a spirited medley

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Tomb Nelson and the Stillwater Hobos in the act of stopping ladies in their tracks.

I have rarely seen any group of buskers command quite the level of instant attention that Texas-based Tomb Nelson and the Stillwater Hobos did on this sunny May afternoon. The five-member version of the band had been playing their boisterous music for the better part of an hour by the time I was able to get down to the street and record them. They were already quite warmed up, and decided to perform this ambitious medley of the traditional tines “I’ll Tell Me Ma” and “Oh, You New York Girls (Can’t You Dance the Polka?)”

At the time, I was working as the de facto multimedia/movie/web-content editor at the Mountain Xpress, a small alternative newspaper here in Asheville. The Xpress offices are in the Miles Building, and the News Department offices directly overlook that busking magnet known as the Iron sculpture. As a result, the news team hears a lot of buskers. Like anyone forced to listen to music they didn’t choose, they’re annoyed by the bad buskers and distracted by the good ones. But, in this case, they all but dragged me out to record this group. Why? What’s so awesome about this band?

Well, they are talented. And, in spite of their claim that they weren’t really a band, they had a surprising level of outfit coordination, meaning that either they’d just come from the backstage of a touring show of Newsies, or they thought that dressing up as Mumford & Sons couldn’t hurt in landing them a few extra bucks. But that’s not what captured the attention of the Xpress employees … particularly the younger, female ones.

Given the flushed faces of some of the female members of the team at Xpress, I think it’s also safe to say that a group of young, good-looking guys dressed up and performing on a warm spring day might have had something to do with the excitement. In fact, for a mid-day performance in the middle of the week, Nelson and crew gathered quite a crowd of onlookers, and a surprising portion of those were young, leering women.

Unfortunately for those who would love to hear (and see) more, they have their work cut out for them. As I mentioned earlier, the boys say they aren’t exactly a band, but rather a group of friends from Texas visitng one of their pals in town. I find this a little hard to believe given how solid their performances were, and I question how any group of Americans know an Irish folk tune like “I’ll Tell Me Ma” (also known as “The Belle of Belfast City”) well enough to play it on a street corner on a whim. In any case, the band say they have no recordings and no website for would-be fans.