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 →
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 →
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 →
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.
The edited version is more a story of unrequited teenage attraction that neither the young girl or the society lives in is able to accept. It’s a little hokey, but if you watch the original film, I think you’ll agree that my version tells a better story. Continue reading →
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.
Highly original, clearly talented, and a little skittish mixed with a heap of defiant, it’s hard not to be strangely charmed by 37’s persona. Continue reading →
Singer-songwriter Logan Mason performs in front of Malaprop’s in downtown Asheville, NC.
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.
When I asked why I hadn’t seen him play before, Mason told me that he’d only just moved to town a few months ago from Jackson, MS. “I just kind of ended up here,” he told me with a shrug. Continue reading →
Singer-songwriter Logan Mason (aka Elk Tracks) performs in front of Malaprop’s.
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.
But there’s something to be said for contrast, and in a town filled with performers who are more than content to be the center of attention, it’s a quiet performer like Logan Mason who really stands out. Continue reading →