The moment I rounded the corner from Battery Park to Haywood, I knew I’d hit the jackpot. In the recessed alcove of Kim’s Wigs were three young women playing to a clutch of captivated passersby. Not just any young women, either. They were obviously talented players, and knew the idiom of traditional and old-time American folk tunes well. For the purposes of video, however, the jackpot was that they were all attractive in that tangible, earthy way folk musicians should be.
It was Busk Break gold, right from the start.
It’s safe to say that the three were still getting used to the attention of that afternoon as I approached. It was the July 4th weekend of 2011, and a great time to be a busker in downtown Asheville. The air was warm, but not yet oppressively hot. They were huge crowds of three-day-weekenders pumping through the city’s veins, happy to part with coins and small bills for a moment’s entertainment. By the time I approached, camera-in-hand, they were already receiving waves of compliments from strangers.
It was hard not to be a little captivated by them, honestly. They were so full of youthful energy and playfully awkward confidence. Even when they blew the ending of “Chilly Winds,” they just laughed it off. “Shit!” the fiddle player said with a smile as the song fell apart without warning. The moment couldn’t have been more charming.
I approached them, explaining the Busk Break project and hoping they’d play along. They didn’t hesitate for a moment. The introduced themselves in turn — Sarah Jamison on guitar, Chloe Edmonstone on fiddle and Ariel Dixon on banjo — wisely spelling their names to avoid any later confusion. When I asked what their band name was, however, the answer was less clear.
“We’re friends that play together very often under various different band names,” Jamison told me.
“We grew up together,” added Edmonstone, “playing music together and going to different music festivals.”
“What’s your name today?” I asked.
There was a brief conference of whispers and nodding.
“Locust Honey,” said Dixon.
The name stuck. In fact, Dixon and Edmonstone still perform as Locust Honey today, although Jamison’s role is now filled by guitarist Meredith Watson. (They’ve also added a new member in banjo player Hilary Hawke.) The slightly rebranded Locust Honey String Band has gone on to receive rave reviews in the acoustic and folk-music press, releasing He Ain’t No Good, a 15-song full-length album, in 2012. Their music has been heard on the BBC, and their praises sung on the pages of Bluegrass Unlimited, Northern Sky Music Magazine and American Roots.
In one of their interviews with Asheville-based paper Mountain Xpress (which is also where I was working when the Busk Break began, and the website host of the original version of these videos), Ariel Dixon noted that their first performance as a “real” band was for a 4th of July show … you guess it, the same day as this recording. These videos are more than just a record of some cute young women playing music in the doorway of a wig shop, they’re a document of the birth of a band. And that’s awesome.