You might not think that a half-dozen clean-shaven young men belting songs from the 1930s about cocaine addiction would be a natural crowd pleaser in a street festival, but you’d be wrong. Maybe it has something to do with their mashup addition of the thematically similar Old Crow Medicine Show tune “Tell It To Me,” which certainly seemed to please many in the audience.
Or maybe it was the brigade of mostly female fans, many of whom made it very clear that they were enjoying the testosterone on display at least as much as the music. That, or cocaine use is just a heckova lot more popular these days than I realized.
What do you get when you combine Asheville’s most high-profile busking boy band with the largest street festival in the region? You get a great performance, that’s what. Playing this medley of Irish tunes “The Foggy Dew” and “Come Out, Ye Black and Tans,” Tomb Nelson and The Stillwater Hobos had drawn a crowd to rival acts on the actual Bele Chere 2012 stages.
It’s a rare enough thing to harness one’s passion and dedication long enough to master any musical instrument. But to create a musical instrument, develop techniques for playing it, and then become a master of that instrument … it’s practically the stuff of musical legend. But for Austin-based musician Mike Gray, it was just something to do with a broken guitar.
He’s more introspective and earnest-seeming, and far less bombastic than most of the street performers in Asheville, but that’s to Logan Mason’s advantage. His songs seem intensely personal, and his downcast-eyes style of performance makes him seem like an unlikely musician to be playing to strangers for tips. He’s almost the definition of unassuming, wearing a plain white T-shirt and a “Bass Pro Shops” cap that I’m fairly certain isn’t some ironic hipster statement.
There aren’t a lot of quiet, introspective buskers on the streets of Asheville, NC. And for obvious reasons. When you are competing with the rumble of engines, the sounds of construction, the incessant nattering of small talk from passersby and even the sound-diluting downtown wind, it’s hard for a quiet song to compete. And if your song is actually about something truly interesting, or even beautiful, it’s a rare person who will stop in their tracks and listen. Loud performers with simple, belting songs tend to attract the most attention, and the lion’s share of the tips.
In the muggy heat after a week of rain, Richmond, VA-based busker Banjo Ben Shirley performs the traditional tune “Sugar Hill” in front of the Woolworth Walk in downtown Asheville, NC. You may know him from his previous appearances on Busk Break with Abby the Spoon Lady, but he’s not exactly a slouch when it comes to solo performance. With a clear voice, a tambourine on his foot keeping time, and no shortage of talent, there’s a lot to like in his take on a classic tune. Continue reading Banjo Ben Shirley plays “Sugar Hill”
“I’m going to play this song because your fuzzy microphone cover reminds me of a rabbit,” Ben Shirley told me as he warmed up. After a moment, he added, “It was on the Three Pickers record, so this can be a tribute to Doc and Earl passing this year.”
Austin-based folk musician Dan Cioper may not actually be on a formal tour, but he has been playing around the region with his New Orlean’s-based guitarist pal Shawn Bayley for the last few weeks. Here, the duo perform Cioper’s original song “Wheel By Wheel” in front of the Iron Sculpture in downtown Asheville, as darkening skies threatened rain. The duo had been packing up to move on when I encountered them, but it didn’t take much convincing to get them to play one last song, even as the clouds above began to drizzle. Continue reading Dan Cioper and Shawn Bayley perform “Wheel By Wheel”
Recently unearthed from the Busk Break archives, Caster covers this classic “dirty blues” tune in 2011!
At the time of this recording, banjo-playing busker Caster had yet to write a song he felt comfortable playing in front of a camera. So I asked him, “Do you have a cover that you feel you really love? A song that you’ve truly made your own?”
It’s hard not to have a hint of prejudice when you encounter a guitar-and-banjo busking duo. Almost certainly, you’ll prepare yourself to hear some nasal-pitched bluegrass tune, or maybe some gritty, jazzed-up novelty blues song. What you probably won’t expect is to hear music that owes as much to Marcus Mumford and Thom Yorke as it does to Earl Scruggs or Lawrence Marrero. That’s exactly what makes The Archaic so interesting. Continue reading The Archaic return to Busk Break with a trio of tunes