Recorded in the same session as his cover of “If I Only Had a Brain”, local busker Aaron Basskin performs his original tune “What To Do” in front of the Iron sculpture on downtown Asheville, NC.
Most of the time, the buskers I meet aren’t aware of the Busk Break project, but as it turns out, Basskin was. He’d seen one of the several videos documenting local jazz band and busking scene favorite Big Nasty, and was highly impressed.
Local busker Aaron Basskin performs his version of a song almost everyone in the English-speaking world can at least hum along to: “If I Only Had a Brain” by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, written for the 1939 film version of The Wizard of Oz. Continue reading Aaron Basskin covers “If I Only Had a Brain”
New Hampshire-based cellist Anna Trevor gave me a wry smile before putting the bow to the strings of her cello. I was trying to convince her to perform an original tune, but although she assured me that she had written several songs on guitar, she hadn’t worked them all out on the cello. So I switched gears, and asked her if there was a song she simply loved to play on the cello. That’s where the smile came from.
At first listen you might not think much of this ditty by the Walhalla, SC,-based busker known simply as Doc. It’s certainly a well-performed tune, and clearly there’s passion behind this original composition, but something is obviously missing. That something is lyrics, and to appreciate the song in context, it helps to realize that Doc was bone tired from performing, and had completely strained his voice the previous day. He could barely talk, in fact, and was nursing herbal tea between songs in an attempt to soothe his vocal chords. Continue reading Doc may have strained his voice, but not his harmonica
For quite some time, Bill Page was one of a very small number of busking musicians on the streets of Knoxville, TN. It’s not a town that has traditionally been known as a busking hotspot, but over the last few years this has been changing, and Page is at least part of the reason why. Some of it is his music, to be sure, but just as importantly, it’s because of his defiance of anti-busking policies by the Knoxville police.
Back in the summer of 2010, Page was issued a citation for obstructing a 10-foot sidewalk with his performance. According to Page, the initial interaction with the police was more them telling him to move along, and him refusing to because busking isn’t illegal in Knoxville. The police said it was, and when it turns out they were wrong, Page says they “went fishing” for something to cite him with. Continue reading Knoxville’s Bill Page sings about trading places
Asheville’s Bele Chere festival is a swarming, sprawling mass of sights and sounds, and it’s easy for busking musicians to get drowned out in the chaos. But that didn’t stop Durham-based singer-songwriter Erin Brown from giving it her best.
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.
What can you say about Atlanta’s genre-crossing band SolStar? How many bands can you think of that feature an electric violin and African dancing as key elements to the performance? Having only encountered the band by accident before, and having only a cellphone camera to capture the performance, it was a great turn of luck to run into them again.
In most other cities, you’d never see musicians like clarinet player Wendi Loomis and guitarists Mario Piccolo and Sean Mabe busking for tips. You’d only see them performing in night clubs and upscale bars as the evening’s featured entertainment. And, as the Gypsy Swingers (or, in a slightly different arrangement as the Red Hot Sugar Babies), that’s generally how you’d encounter them as well. But the lure of playing for tips in the height of Asheville’s tourist season brings even the professionals out for a piece of the busking action.
When I first encountered Tomás and Derrick, the duo that would later add a few rotating members to their lineup and perform as Damn Girl!, they insisted that they were only passing through town. Perhaps a month passed, and by that point they’d become as established as any local band in the Asheville busking scene. I was hardly surprised. Even in early spring, there are plenty of tip-wielding tourists for buskers to perform to, and, as a rule of thumb, loud buskers do better than quiet ones. This is true even when the songs being played aren’t even in English.