Busk Break is an ongoing field recording series documenting live performances by busking musicians and other street performers.
Author: 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.
“This is called ‘Looking For Some Time.’ It’s my ode to North Carolina,” he said, followed by an almost embarrassed laugh.
I met Alex Williamson on a cool afternoon in late October 2010. It was just before the start of MoogFest, and the city was swarming with world-class musicians and their crews, all frantically trying to settle in before the madness of that Halloween-fueled festival. He was playing on the corner of Battery Park and Page Avenue in downtown Asheville, a good block from two of the best-established busking hotspots, and I assumed he was from out of town. But he wasn’t. He was a local guy who either hadn’t done enough busking to know where the money spots were. Continue reading Alex Williamson is just “Looking For Some Time”
The new collection includes outstanding performances from Charles Clyde Toney II with Kris Wahl and Eris Valentine; Amy Alvey and Blake “BlakeAbyss” Larson; Brian McGee and Kevin “Krum” Rumley; Taylor Martin and Lyndsay Pruitt; Tomb Nelson and the Stillwater Hobos; Alex Travers; 37; Shane Conerty; Anna Trevor; Logan Mason; and Patrick and Cody. All proceeds go toward keeping Busk Break project alive, upgrading our equipment and tipping future buskers for their contributions. And for $1 a track or a mere $7 for the whole thing, what more could you ask for? Click the link for details.
After nearly four years of constant suggestion, we’re finally launching our first Bandcamp album, The Best of Busk Break: Volume 1! This includes some of our favorite tracks from the last few years: Balkan Death Grip; Mister Gunn & The Pistol Packin’ Mamas; Abby the Spoon Lady & Ben Shirley; Alex Brady, Clarence Gallagher and Antone Costa; Damn Girl!; Jessica Dennison; Mike Gray; Sparrow; Blind Boy Chocolate and the Milk Sheiks; and Kevin Jerome. All proceeds go toward keeping Busk Break project alive, upgrading our equipment and tipping future buskers for their contributions. And for $1 a track or a mere $7 for the whole thing, what more could you ask for? Click the link for details.
What’s not to like about upbeat tunes played on resonator guitar and kazoo? Not much, that’s what. And given how much fun Airhorn Slim is to listen to, it’s worth giving each of these tunes a few listens.
Eagle-eyed viewers may recognize Airhorn Slim from other Busk Break videos, such as Balkan Death Grip’s “Men Trinkte Mashke” performance, as he’s a regular collaborator with other regional buskers. This 2011 session in front of the Woolworth Walk, however, was the first time I’d ever encountered Slim performing on his own.
Watching this video of violinist Amy Alvey and Hang drum player Blake “Blake Abyss” Larson perform together, you’d probably expect to hear that the duo had been busking together for weeks, if not years. As unusual at the pairing of the instruments is, the whole thing comes together in a way that implies the comfort and ease of players who know each other very well.
And, as you’ve already guessed, that’s not the case at all.
In fact, Blake and Amy met for the first time mere moments before this video was filmed. I was on one of my “busk hunts” when I encountered them finishing up a tentative jam in front of the Iron sculpture. They seemed so natural together that I assumed they were touring band, or at least regular buskers.
There are some songs that bypass every bit of cynicism, pretense and stylistic preference. They slip right through the portcullis bars of the psyche, and slide into the unguarded heart where nostalgia and memory live. For me, one of those songs is “Over The Rainbow.” Sure, the The Wizard of Oz plays a part in this, but an even bigger reason is Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole’s medley version of the song. Played on a tiny ukulele by giant hands, that tune is one of the reasons I first started paying attention to folk and traditional music.
Not that Adhi’s cover bears much resemblance to that version, mind you. It’s entirely his own. But I like this performance as much for the power of the song, which shines through even when given a jazzed up improv treatment. Continue reading Adhi covers “Over The Rainbow”
It may be surprising given how confidently he plays, but klezmer and old-time inspired banjo player Adam Kobetich had only been working on his busking set for a few months when I first encountered him. Although hardly new to the Asheville musical community, at this time Kobetich was still learning the ropes of street performing, and spoke with me about the trail-and-error process of discovering good tunes for busking.
When you record as many buskers as I have, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of prejudice. Having seen a lot of skinny white girls with dreadlocks busking on the street corners of Asheville, I’d built up a certain set of assumptions. These can be summed up with the following sentence: “I’ll be gobsmacked if she can play anything other than Dave Matthews Band covers.”
It’s great to be proven wrong, and the young woman calling herself “37” was definitely not the kind of person I was expecting to record. I’d been expecting three-chord covers, and instead I was blasted away by a seamless fusion of folk, ska, punk and other influences that simply couldn’t have come together by mere accident.
Bluegrass-loving buskers Chris Lyon and Adam Witkowski performed a pair of original tunes for this 2011 session of Busk Break. Switching between mandolin and guitar, the duo each played one of their own songs with the practiced ease of friends who have been working with each other for years.
And that’s exactly the case, as they’d been involved in several projects together in Vermont. This performance near Pack Square is the only time either musician appeared on Busk Break. Continue reading Chris Lyon and Adam Witkowski
In this video, singer/songwriter Abe Leonard is joined by keyboardist Lloyd Hill and violinist (and Busk Break alum) Erica, performing a pair of then-untitled songs. Originally recorded in 2011, these never-before-seen video was recently discovered in the Busk Break archives.
Why have these never been seen before? Both are very weird songs, being deeply dissonant and also strangely performed. At the time I recorded them, I honestly didn’t think much of either. Two years later, I’m still conflicted about them. It’s time to share. Continue reading Abe, Lloyd and Erica