Why the Spoon Lady gave up Nashville busking.
With our storytelling night coming up fast, May 31 in Jonesborough, TN (click here for tickets) I have really started thinking about how it is I came to spend all this time in Asheville, and why I left the Nashville busking scene. The town lured me in with its charm and has kept me here with its beautiful people and colorful arts. I honestly couldn’t imagine being the Spoon Lady anywhere else.
Asheville has been an eye opener for me. For those who know bits and pieces of my story, you may understand that I came into town a bit tired and shaggy. I had been hopping freight trains for several years, playing music city to city. My back was sore from carrying my backpack. The Asheville sidewalk felt like home to me when I decided to finally settle here permanently in 2013.
The Road to Asheville.
My time on the road was great. There is something very real about living out of a backpack. It’s centering to not have to worry about the day to day mess of society. I crashed under bridges, slept in fields. I played music where it was legal, and I got by however I could where it was not. Today I still think about the wind, & the sound. I think of the cold steel of the railroad, nature, however, I understand those days have passed me.
My very first time in Asheville, North Carolina was an accident. I had meant to take a train towards Atlanta and instead got on freight running North out of Chattanooga to Asheville. I had been riding with two other travelers and had fallen asleep next to the tracks while waiting for our train. Waking up hastily to jump on a train that was pulling up and gaining speed, I didn’t realize that I was heading the wrong direction until much later. I threw my gear into the corner of the gondola car and fell back asleep. I woke up to the sunrise in the beautiful mountains, and firmly understood right away that Atlanta was not on the horizon.
I used Nashville, Tennesee as a hub for several years, street performing on the corner of 2nd & Broadway very often when not traveling about. I liked living there, but the city seemed very dark and plastic. The Nashville music scene seemed to eat musicians and artists for snacks. To top it off too, Nashville busking is difficult. It feels as if you darn near need to be on fire to get people’s attention. Over and over I would see buskers coming into town aiming to “sell a song” or “make it big.” Very often I would watch their guitars go to the local pawn shop with the goal to buy a bus ticket back home. The pawn shops in Nashville are lined with shattered dreams.
Streets in Nashville are filled with urban decay. There is a mess of laws and blatant coldness towards the homeless community. The suffering is hard to watch on the street. Panhandlers and boozers, drunk fraternity guys, tanked bridesmaids tripping over their high-heels. In many of the bars, you would see bands playing the “Nashville playlist” and shouting the regular “holler and swallers”. It seemed like music wasn’t supposed to be that way. Some of the bands from the bars didn’t like us much, however, and would walk through our crowd clapping off-time trying to throw us off.
On the street seemed harsh some nights too. I played with a band of folks called “Free Dirt”, and after a while we started doing well with Nashville busking. We stuck it out long enough without creating issues, and the police didn’t ever mess with us. You’d have families come by during the day, and then the dinner crowd came. Dresses would start looking fancy. As the night got later, the skirts got shorter and the heels got longer. By the time it was full-fledged drunk outside, it was a bit of a mad house.
A sigh of relief.
Eventually, the Nashville buzz turned into a stinging ringing in my ears. No matter what I tried, I seemed to not be able to escape the consistent ambient noise, the neon, or the repetitive pop country. I came to the realization that Nashville could no longer be my home-base. CMA fanfare was happening. The streets were flooded with thousands of bodies. It was just too much, so I hitched to Asheville.
Asheville has always been a welcoming place for me. I would pass through in the past, and folks always seemed to remember who I was. Other travelers and friends had settled here, so the transition from floating about to paying rent for the very first time in a long time came a bit easier for me. And very importantly, there was the ability to hear my own thoughts.
What a relief, Asheville busking seemed like a different horse altogether. The police department in Asheville is supportive. Nashville police seemed to not understand street performance laws. The “rules” would change consistently, keeping many bands from sticking around on the street too long. In my new haven, there is a different type of lifestyle. Street performance is embraced and accepted in Asheville.
Still, I have thoughts about going to Nashville once and a while, but the thought is a bit daunting to me nowadays. I fear the Nashville Police Department a bit, and I am anxious about the consistent city activity. I’d love to see buskers visit Nashville city council and ask to be heard. A little understanding could go a long way.
What do you think?
This comparison brings to light how important it is to preserve the amazing street culture we have in the Asheville area. We should be proud of ourselves here. Why is Asheville special to you? Have you had experience with Nashville busking? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
Thank you for supporting DIY music. Please consider sharing this post, as getting the word out is half the battle. Tweet