I’ve written before that F.J.K.’s “If You End Up Broke” is one of my favorite recordings from the pre-video era of Busk Break, and four years into the project, that’s still true. One reason for this is something that I wasn’t able to appreciate at the time I recorded it: It’s a terrible song for busking.
In general, if you’re going to make money playing tunes to people walking by on their way to somewhere else, it pays to go with something bright, high-energy and recognizable. F.J.K.’s “If You End Up Broke” is none of those. It’s a melancholy tune on the surface, but the lyrics are surprisingly mellow and hopeful. That’s not the kind of subtlety most passersby are likely to notice.
It’s not that most musicians I’ve met on Busk Break don’t have songs like this in their repertoire — of course they do — but few would ever decide to play them on the street. Less people stop for a melancholy tune than for an upbeat one. Less people stop for an original than for a pop hit. What makes this song so wonderful is that it’s a rare thing to find in the wild. Continue reading F.J.K. performs “If You End Up Broke”
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.
In many ways, the fall of 2010 was the defining year for the busking scene in downtown Asheville. While street performers were hardly unknown in the city, a number of factors combined during that season to put Asheville on the map for traveling musicians that year. One of those factors was the first Asheville MoogFest, which brought a wealth of national-level electronic musicians to an already music-crazed city during Halloween weekend. Where there’s people and foot traffic, there will be buskers.
That’s not to say that Ben Wilton planned his arrival in town around what would become one of the region’s major music festivals for the next few years. If anything, he seemed a little overwhelmed at just how many people were out on the streets on that chilly October night. Originally from New Jersey, Wilton had been “rambling” around the East Coast with his guitar for the previous three weeks, and was only planning on being in town for a few days. Continue reading Ben Wilton performs “Big Bad World”
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.
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 Ashby Gale covers “King Of The Road”
In this archive recording from 2010, Ashton and Rama Cheromaya perform their original duet “Mayan Queen” in front of Malaprop’s cafe and bookstore in downtown Asheville. If you like powerful female voices in the acoustic folk genre, this will be well worth listening to. The duo was also known for a time (and may still be known, actually) as Sweet Water Revolver, and there are many additional recordings of them floating around the internet if you like what you hear.
What’s up with that video, though? WLike many of the very early Busk Break recordings, there is no original video to accompany the audio, and I’ve once again paid a visit to the public-domain Prelinger archive content at Archive.org to make some thing suitable for sharing. In this case, I’ve edited down a 1954 educational film called “Habit Patterns” to be more in fitting with the audio. The original is largely about the terror that comes from having lazy habits, and tells the story of a girl who no one likes because she wore a stained top to school one day.
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.
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.
“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.