May 19, 2016.
Buskers and Biscuits and Gravy.
Wikipedia’s definition: “Street performance or busking is the act of performing in public places for gratuities, though “busking” is particularly associated with singing or playing music ….”.
I didn’t know that many famous musicians started out as Buskers. Rod Stewart, Bono, Robin Williams, Tracy Chapman, BB King, Pierce Brosnan, Jewel.
Here in Asheville, a city known for it’s music scene, it isn’t uncommon to to see and hear buskers at several street corners.
Zuma is fascinated with them and wants to befriend everybody.
This is her first experience hearing a sax up close. She voluntarily schmoozed in closer to hang out with the friendly performer, then she looked at us, ears dropping with the realization she was in over her head, as if to say, “Whaaat was I thinking?” We let her figure it out. She was socially graceful. Even though she freaked herself out a bit.
We lovvvve Mountain Music.
If you have a few minutes, here’s a youtube clip about Asheville Buskers. Guaranteed to make you smile. Ain’t Nuthin’ Much is the name of the band, we always stop and watch them if they are playing when we walk around the city. These boys always draw a huge crowd.
As does Abby, The Spoon Lady:
The variety of the Busker’s instruments is amazing: banjos, harmonicas, trumpets, guitars, fiddles, spoons, saxophones, cellos, bongo drums, a full set of drums, clarinets, everybody gets a turn. Their subtle hats/guitar cases welcome gratuities, but there is no pressure to pay for their humble entertainment. Rule number One: they cannot request tips.
These artists are so talented, many make a living this way. I see some of them around the city in other jobs too.
There’s even a “statue man” who is painted a bronze color and poses as a fly fisherman in frozen positions until he receives a tip in his hat, then he moves slowly into another pose.
Nearby benches often provide seating and allow the audience to “set a spell” but mostly crowds gather and are happy to stand around to soak up the mountain music, folk songs or contemporary tunes, depending on the performers and the street corner. Cell ‘phones go into overdrive as the performers are filmed by the admiring crowds. Dollar bills of varying denominations float gratefully into hats, guitar cases. The Buskers are truly appreciative and polite; they always thank the people who offer gratuities. They all seem well-educated. They are certainly well-mannered. They are not allowed to ask for tips, they cannot post any visible advertising to sell their CDs but people inquire and purchase a sample of their work because it is so good.
We love it. The tourists and locals love it.
Everybody is smiling, basking in the warmth of a sunny Sunday afternoon and soaking up the music.
Busking is an integral thread in the fabric of the city. These are bronze statues of Buskers in front of The Thomas Wolfe Auditorium downtown, celebrating the street music scene here:
Yes, this guy does have pants on. I checked.
He’s not the average busker although he is a good drummer.
I love it that I caught Doug and Zuma’s reflection in the window.
It was a lucky fluke!
This couple really rock it out.
I met this lovely guy and chatted with him a little.
He is from Florida, passing through. He told me he’s been busking for a year, traveling around the country with gratuities he receives and he loves it. I asked him to write a poem about Zuma for me. He looked at us and thought a moment and then tapped this out on his old manual turquoise typewriter:
He is so sweet and sincere. I love it that he is making his way with language. We see Phil around the city. He is often surrounded by people requesting his work. He asked if he could read the poem he wrote to me and he brought tears to my eyes. I’m so glad I had my sunglasses on so I didn’t come across as a total blubbering middle-aged sentimental idiot. Not that he would have minded. He is a kind person.
Later, Doug and went back to thank him and gave him a large tip. This humble, clean cut poet made our day. I will frame his work.
Then we wandered to a nearby restaurant for a cold drink and were sitting with a group of people talking about Buskers and how great it is that Asheville is a hub for street musicians and performers. I showed the poem to one of the women who was sitting with us.
And she cried.
Most of the entertainers are local, others wander in off the nearby Appalachian mountain trails in between hikes, their dogs loyally following them. Some appear to be transients. If you have talent, it can be an easy way to collect some quick cash.
Street performers are all very peaceful folk. In fact, the Buskers in the city have formed a group called Asheville Buskers Collective (ABC). I found them on Facebook and borrowed this from their FB page:
UPDATE: As of now, there have bee NO CHANGES TO ANY LAWS regarding busking in Asheville. You do not need a permit. CD sales is still illegal, but change may be on the way. It’s legal to have a sign with your band name, but not directly asking for money.
The City of Asheville is discussing future changes in the center-city landscape, and some of these changes may concern buskers or effect them. Currently there has been discussion of making amplifiers illegal, which is something the ABC wishes to KEEP LEGAL. Having said this, please be mindful and play to your own space – whether you have amplification or not. It’s just the nice thing to do.
The two hour rule, although endorsed by the Asheville Buskers Collective, is not an ABC rule. The “rule” has been around for a very long time, long before the ABC formed. There has been discussion of making the rule law, as some buskers have started not following it. The less restrictive our scene is, the better, so please share. This keeps things fresh for our business owners, residents, and gives all our buskers a chance to play.
This is Dickie, a talented, frequent street performer here and an active member of ABC:
This woman has a beautiful voice; in the dappled shade at one of the markets, she and the band she plays with performed songs in genuine French as well as in English. Her soft, feeling voice is brilliant, soft, subtle. It is like like listening to warm cream melting in a hot cup of coffee. The accompanying musicians are humble and play softly. It was a beautiful experience.
Others, like this man below, has an active performing schedule with his band and they have a number of CDs on the market. This Mountain Music band ‘Ain’t Nuthin’ Much’ is phenomenal and we sat and watched them for a long time. The banjo player has flying fingers and mesmerized the crowd with his high falutin’ finger pickin’ and hilarious little ditties in between verses.
A true entertainer.
Here’s a youtube clip of one of the fun songs (Biscuits and Gravy) ‘Ain’t Nuthin’ Much’ played last weekend:
In general, we’ve noted, the dogs accompanying the Buskers are well-behaved, super socialized and usually better fed and groomed than their masters. They lay peacefully dozing beside their owners until the set is over, the open guitar case sprinkled with dollar bills. Some dogs even snooze in the empty guitar case! Then their owners complete their set and move on to another location to make room for the next performer.
A few weeks ago, a 20-ish couple were hiking in the Pisgah Mountains when they became unexpectedly separated from the couple they were traveling with. Panic ensued in Asheville and area when the hikers were reported missing by a family member. For 72 solid hours hundreds of volunteers, police, EMTs, search and rescue teams and other authorities, even several helicopters searched the area where they were last seen in the forest. We had a few cold nights during their disappearance and the main concerns were hypothermia, a fatal fall or a bear attack. The search went on in full swing.
Then, three days later, someone spotted them in downtown Asheville, busking. Apparently, they forgot to call their family and let them know their whereabouts. Tens of thousands of dollars were spent on trying to locate these hikers, people took time off work, helicopters were in the air for two days. The couple sincerely apologized; they said they lost track of the other pair of hikers and hitched a ride into town with their dog and a guitar. They didn’t expect the whole event to turn into such a huge debacle. Everyone involved in the search was extremely relieved the hikers were alive and safe and the head of the search said he would do it all again and will in future should hikers go astray.
We’ve seen and heard some exceptional talent downtown. This Mountain Music band was phenomenal.
This girl danced ‘clogging’ style on a board with special ‘tap’ shoes and she was fantastic. The lead singer (to the right) put on a twangy voice that sounded like a Victrola record.
All very authentic. Kinduv gives you goosebumps, they are so natural and professional.
I want to take up banjo playing.
Zuma and I could go on the road.
You know I’m kidding, right?
Restaurants, especially those offering outdoor patio seating, don’t shoo off the buskers. In fact, buskers attract customers.
We’ll often toss a few dollars in a hat for good entertainment, especially if the buskers have a dog alongside. Zuma has befriended a few of these cool dogs. I wonder what they think of this lanky chic dog wearing her rhinestone collar!
The entertainment, music and songs from these street performers offer vitality and energy to downtown; they make people smile and feel good.
Everybody likes to feel good.