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 Deep Chatham perform “The Cursed (Medley)”
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.
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.
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
Vocalist/guitarist Mark Conti and bassist Christian Ferri — both members of the Asheville Waits Band (a Tom Waits cover band) — perform “Singapore” from the album Rain Dogs in front of the Iron sculpture.
This video was originally recorded on a very windy day in early January, 2012.
On a warm July night in 2010, singer-songwriter PJ Bond stood in front of a wig store and played his heart out. This was in the early days of the Busk Break project, and it set the tone for the rest the performances that summer.
Bond had only been living in town for a year or so, but his brother, Pancho Romero Bond, was already established as the frontman of local “absurdist, gypsy, folk, funk, punk” band Sirius.B. Although not nearly the same level of showman as his brother, I’d argue that PJ Bond is clearly the better songwriter. But PJ never really found his niche in novelty-act living Asheville, and his time as a busker didn’t last long. Continue reading PJ Bond performs “You Know The Drill”
Sitting alone in front of the BB&T Building near Pack Square, his large backpack casually flopped to one side, Jackson Porter was quietly playing to himself when I met him. He wasn’t exactly busking, as he didn’t have a hat out or anything, but he wasn’t no-busking either. He told me he was taking some time off from school, and had been backpacking and hiking around, doing sections of the Appalachian Trail among other adventures. He’d only been playing the ukulele for a short time, but found that his guitar experience transferred pretty well.
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”