About the last person I expected to see strumming away outside Malaprop’s was Nikki Talley. Yet, there she was, playing a busted up guitar while leaning against the wrought-iron “Shopping Daze” sculpture. It had been years since I’d seen her, and given the hellish weekend ahead of me, she was a welcome sight. In just as few hours, the Bele Chere festival would be upon us, taking over the whole of downtown in a mass of vendor tents, outdoor stages, and drunk, sunburned tourists. Being a journalist in Asheville meant I was covering Bele Chere, and I’d barely have time to sleep until it over. Continue reading →
Roger Clark (guitar), Jeff Loops (bass) and Julian Sikes (backing vocals).
In this unexpected collaboration, country musician Roger Clark and not-so-easy-to-categorize band Deep Chatham (Jeff Loops on bass and Julian Sikes providing the occasional backing vocal) perform an impromptu cover of Hank Williams’ classic tune “Your Cheatin’ Heart.”
Clark had encountered the duo in passing as they busked in front of the Iron Sculpture in downtown Asheville in 2011. A casual conversation about old-time country had turned into an off-the-cuff jam session between three musicians separated by nearly two generations. Clark only played a few songs with Deep Chatham, and this was a truly fortunate thing to happen across. Continue reading →
Locust Honey (Sarah Jamison on guitar, Chloe Edmonstone on fiddle and Ariel Dixon on banjo)
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. Continue reading →
As I mentioned in the last post about Deep Chatham, it was obvious after just a few seconds that guitarist Julian Sikes and bassist Jeff Loops were immensely talented performers. The performance that sold me on the duo was “Hard To Find,” a rollicking, upbeat, gritty, sarcastic, ironic and otherwise difficult-to-categorize tune. For whatever reason, “Hard To Find” doesn’t appear on their outstanding Words From The Well album, making it, well … hard to find.
By the time encountered Loops and Sikes, they’d already started working with Matt Heckler, having crossed paths with him a world away in the tiny town of Talkeetna, Alaska. Continue reading →
Deep Chatham’s bassist Jeff Loops and guitarist Julian Sikes.
It’s easy to get a little spoiled by the busking scene in Asheville. Often it seems like there’s outstanding musical talent waiting to be seen around every corner. On this sunny day in June of 2011, I turned a corner and ran into guitarist Julian Sikes and upright bassist Jeff Loops, better known as Deep Chatham. And they were unavoidably fantastic.
In the three years since this recording, Deep Chatham has made quite a name for themselves, releasing a fantastic full-length album (Words From The Well) and touring several times around the East Coast. Along the way, they’ve picked up two key members in fiddle player Matt Heckler and pianist/accordionist Trevor Grassi, who longtime followers of Busk Break may know better as Balkan Death Grip. Continue reading →
One of the most exciting things about Busk Break is revisiting performers over the years. Some performers start off stilted and awkward, borderline terrified of playing on the streets and only agreeing to be recorded after a heavy bribe in their empty tip jars. A year later, those same musicians have often evolved into confident, charismatic, corner-owning rock stars. That doesn’t always happen, of course. In some cases, there wasn’t much that needed improvement in the first place. That was definitely true if F.J.K.
I first met F.J.K. in the pre-video days of Busk Break (the spring and summer of 2010), and his performance persona was already well established. He was confident enough, if a little awkward in casual conversation. He was seemingly ambivalent about being recorded, but perfectly happy to take my money. He played an original, “If You End Up Broke,” which is easily one of the best songs I recorded in 2010.
One of the best parts about updating the Busk Break archive is discovering recordings I’d completely forgotten about. A good example of this is my recording of Andrew Jones. Until just a few hours ago, I would have summed up my encounter with him something like this: He played the harp, he looked kind of like a young Art Garfunkel, and he was living in Black Mountain. I only recorded a single song, I recalled, probably I got the impression that he didn’t want to be recorded.
As you’re probably guessing, I found something that proves I’m actually remembering it wrong. And that’s exactly the case. I’m way, way off on this one.
While the original video is lost to the ether, I did manage to find the original audio. It tells a totally different story, and one filled with detail. It turns out that I did a passable interview with Jones in our brief encounter.
It began with him agreeing to play an original tune. It’s called “Circus Waltz.” Here’s the original recording. Continue reading →
Roger Miller’s “King of the Road” isn’t a very complicated tune. It’s so simple, in fact, that the melody and charm of the song can easily fit in almost any genre of American music. It’s considered a country tune largely because Miller was considered a country artist, but even a quick glance at YouTube shows just how flexible the song structure is. The lyrics are purely functional and entirely literal: It’s a song about a vagabond who has mastered the art of getting by. There are a few idioms and metaphors in the lyrics, but overall it’s a tricky song to read subtext into. Perhaps it’s that very simplicity that makes it so catchy and memorable.
Even without lyrics, Miller’s 1964 hit is still instantly recognizable. In this 2011 recording, Asheville-based sax-playing busker Ashby Gale covers the tune in the doorway of a futon store on the corner of Walnut and Broadway. The recording happened to take place in October during the annual Superhero 5K race, and if you watch the background you can even see a few costumed runners wandering around. Continue reading →
Here’s another hidden gem from the Busk Break vaults! In 2011, I recorded two tunes by new-to-Asheville singer/songwriter Andrew Constantino. It was a busy era, however, and I already had a few dozen other busking videos in the pipeline. As a result, I only created a video for the first tune in that session, “The Sun & The Moon,” and moved on to the other waiting videos.
In the process of re-releasing these videos in HD, however, I soon discovered my omission. Here, for the very first time, is Andrew Constantino’s “Midnight Heat.” Continue reading →
When I met Andrew Constantino on a breezy June day in 2011, he struck me as painfully shy. Although clearly a skilled performer and capable singer, even from a dozen paces away, it was hard to make out what he was playing. After I got him talking, however, the context became more clear. Having only arrived in Asheville a few weeks earlier from upstate New York, he was completely new to the local busking scene. In fact, this particular performance was only his third experience busking downtown.
He seemed flattered when I asked him to do an original song, but he stopped dead in his tracks for a few seconds when I asked what the title of it was.
“You know … I don’t quite have official titles for my stuff,” he said with a sheepish smile. Then he shrugged and said, “I guess ‘The Sun and The Moon’ is what people have dubbed it.” Continue reading →