Ben Fisher's Guide To Busking (Street Performing)

Ben Fisher is a wonderful songwriter, performer, and all -around great guy. But he's also a masterful street performer (or busker), and this is a very fine art as I've discovered. For a while there was a video going around of world-class violinist Joshua Bell failing as a busker on the NYC subway. Everyone said this was an example of how great music is mostly ignored by the unwashed masses. BULLSHIT! It's an example of how difficult it is to make any money if you don't know how to busk. No one, I repeat NO ONE , can stand on a street corner and watch the twenties roll in just by playing amazing music. Nope, you have to connect with your audience, and connect with an audience that's moving rapidly past you. You have to stake out the perfect corner, judge all the sightlines, and reconfigure your music, singing, and playing to break through the sounds of the busy street. You have to endure rainy/windy days, indifferent masses, and even thieves just to make some money for the day. But the best buskers can rake it in and have a great time in the process.

Ben Fisher is one of those buskers in Seattle, a town full of buskers. Sure, he plays at Pike Place, where busking is carefully controlled by a central agency and where there's a historic expectation to see great buskers. But he also plays on University Avenue, one of the grimier parts of Seattle and the home of the real buskers. He plays farmers markets and anywhere he thinks a crowd might gather. He knows how to busk and he respects the art.

In honor of his current Kickstarter campaign, we asked him to break down the Do's and Don'ts of great busking.


Ben Fisher's Busking Do's and Don't's.


1) Don't ever let a dollar bill blow out of your case, down the street, never to be seen again. Yes, it's just a dollar, but you're going to feel crummy about it all day. Run your ass after it.

2) Don't assume that someone you often play in front of doesn't like your music because they don't tip you or talk to you. There's a guy that I've been playing in front of for years, that I'd recognize anywhere. I've never said a word to him, and I've never gotten a dime from him, but last week he came up, dropped a wad of ones in my case and asked if I knew any Ryan Adams songs. There's no rhyme or reason to much of busking.

3) Don't buy produce the day before you busk at a farmers market. If you're lucky, vendors will drop everything from beets to kale to apples to carrots to 'special' fudge in your case.

4) Don't leave your harmonica within arms' reach of a toddler. They will play it.

5) Don't play the same song more than once during the same busking outing. Learn some more songs.

6) Don't scoff at change. It adds up.


1) Do bring strings. For the love of God, bring extra strings. When you're busking, you're playing loud, and it's inevitable that you're going to pop a string once in a while. My record is five strings in a two hour period. Bring extras.

2) Do get out there when it's overcast/raining. There won't be as much competition, and sometimes people are even more generous in nasty weather.

3) Do bring your CDs with you. Though there are some spots you can't sell them, like the bus tunnels, on a good day you can bring in as much money from selling CDs as you can from tips.

4) Do say 'thank you' when something drops into your case. If you've got a mouth full of words because you're in the middle of a song, give a little bow or a smile or something. So many people walk by you without giving a rip. Make the ones who appreciate you know that you appreciate them as well.

You can find out more about Ben and enjoy some more of his life musings via this Inside the Songs Feature we did with him a few months ago.

Ben's Kickstarting to raise funds for his new full-length album. It's kind of like digital busking! Drop some money in his bitmapped hat. The fund drive ends March 10, so help him out!

Ben Fisher Kickstarter


BUY Ben's previous albums on Bandcamp


blog date 02/27/2013  | comments comments (0)

HearthPR: Sorie Kondi rises to the world stage

Sori Kondi


Sorie Kondi’s life is a vision of the struggles of many people in Africa, and specifically Sierra Leone, and there’s no doubt that these harsh struggles have formed him into a prodigious musical talent… but there’s another story here as well. Kondi’s life is also a vision of the rebirth of Sierra Leonean culture and art, the rise of Africa as a world power in the 21st century. Born blind in the Sierra Leone village of Mangiloko, Sorie Kondi turned to music at a young age, teaching himself to play the nearly vanished traditional lamellophone (thumb piano) of his home region, known as the kondi. Living in one of the poorest countries in the world, Kondi was unable to attend school, so he threw himself into his instrument, using his new musical abilities to play ceremonies and weddings outside his village. Sierra Leone’s bitter civil war, fought during the 1990s, forced Kondi to move to the capital of Freetown in 1996. There he took the name Sorie Kondi, after his instrument, and adapted the kondi for his compelling street performances, adding homemade amplification and speakers inspired by his need to be heard over the sounds of Freetown’s busy markets.

Composing new songs and developing a powerful performance style, Kondi began to get noticed on the streets of Freetown, though he still lived in a ramshackle house on the edge of a cliff. When rebels sacked the city in 1999, Kondi was forced to hide in his house after everyone had fled while Freetown burned all around him. Even his plans for a recording career were destroyed by the civil war when his manager fled the country and his master tapes were destroyed. From this period of hardship, the bitter song “Without Money No Family” became his anthem. Ironically, this same song would become his triumph and the invitation for him to travel abroad to the US for the first time in his life.

 Watch: "Without Money No Family"


A chance meeting in 2006 with American recording engineer Luke Wasserman on the street led to Sorie Kondi’s music being recorded and spread throughout Sierra Leone. He soon became a household name in his home country. In 2011, independent filmmaker Banker White, who had co-directed the acclaimed documentary on Sierra Leone’s Refugee All-Stars, brought Kondi’s music video for “Without Money No Family” to New York-based DJ and producer Chief Boima (himself of Sierra Leonean descent). Boima fell hard for Kondi’s haunting vocals, biting lyrics, and beautiful kondi playing and knew he had to remix the song. His cutting-edge remix in turn led to Boima bringing Kondi to the States for a triumphant East Coast tour in 2012. Now in 2013, Sorie Kondi’s star has risen and will rise even higher.

Sorie’s new album, Thogolobea, is to be digitally released by Boima’s label Dutty Artz in the United States in March 2013. This is in anticipation of a full-length album coming in Fall 2013 that will be produced by Chief Boima. For now, Thogolobea is the perfect introduction to Sorie Kondi’s music. His kondi playing is brilliant, rippling across the metal tines of the instrument with breathtaking ease. His voice is rough, ground from the streets of Freetown, but capable of soaring flights and beautiful reverberations. His songs speak of his unique struggles as a blind virtuoso living on the street. But there are new sounds here as well, brought by the album’s Freetown producer Fadie Conteh. Autotune and digital recording technology has spread throughout West Africa and taken root in the music of everyone from Saharan nomads to Malian kora players. Thogolobea echoes with the 21st century clash of digital autotuning, thumping bass, and the ancient sounds of Kondi’s traditional instrument. Recorded in Freetown, Thogolobea is a triumphant return to the studio by one of Sierra Leone’s most visionary artists.

So much of Kondi’s life can be seen as a parable for Africa’s transition to a new century. It’s the story of how one man built his music from the ruins of the society that surrounded him, shaped a place for himself in an overloaded metropolis by the sheer power of his talent and ability, then took his music across the ocean, buoyed by the digital currents that flow between our worlds.


Sorie Kondi: "Ngalungala"


Sorie Kondi: "Joh Songoh"



blog date 02/21/2013  | comments comments (2)

HearthPR: Hannalee's Wintery Wonderland





Brassica is the second of four EPs from Seattle indie roots trio Hannalee. This series of EPs is timed to release with the seasons, and Brassica is a sweet hymn to the cold embrace of winter. The previous EP, Cucurbita, was an ode to Fall, and Hannalee have two more EPs (Spring/Summer) planned for the rest of 2013. Inspired by winter nights spent in the family cabin in the Methow Valley, Brassica wanders through snowy trails, late-night conversations around the fire, sleighbells, and many other aspects of an American winter. The diverse array of songs range from the beautiful love song “Baby Come Home,” to the Beatles-inflected “Born Again Tonight” and the gospel-choir uplift of “Shine.” Rain-drenched harmonies, windswept acoustic guitar work and the intimate warmth of three loving friends making music together complete Hannalee’s vision for their Pacific Northwest winter EP. With Brassica, this roots trio continue their journey to a holistic view of music, where the emphasis is on making music sustainable and plumbing the creative depths of a group.

More about Hannalee and this project:
Following a lull in his popular indie-rock band Motopony’s touring, songwriter Michael Notter returned to his home in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood and turned his music inwards, looking for a way to form his creativity into something deeply sustainable and satisfying. He returned to his dreamy folk trio, Hannalee, that he had formed in 2010 with his wife Anna-Lisa and childhood friend Fidelia Rowe, and poured his energy into the group’s lush 3-part harmonies and original songs. The result ended up being 4 EPs of material that will be released with the turn of the seasons from Fall 2012 until Summer 2013. Each EP will be screen printed with original artwork, handmade by friends. The goal of the project is to make music of such quality that it lifts up the listener, and to surround that music with as much beauty as possible.

Sometimes when you look for the roots of your music, you go deep, and that’s clearly the case with Hannalee. Each song sounds like it’s been hand-woven from gossamer threads, and the voices weave together with the kind of beaming brightness that only the best singers can pull off. Michael’s not the first to find a kind of life-affirming energy in homemade folk music, but there’s something infectiously joyful about this album. It’s the feeling that it’s made with the love of friends and family and the purest love of music devoid of any of the usual worries and troubles of the music business. As Michael says, “I wanted to dwell in the experience of the music, rather than making a record and moving on.” Sometimes you gotta go back home to save yourself, and it sounds like Michael discovered this simple truth with Hannalee.


Hannalee: "Baby Come Home"


Hannalee: "It's Snowing"


Hannalee: Brassica



blog date 02/20/2013  | comments comments (0)

HearthPR: Wood & Wire's Hard-Driving Bluegrass Twang

Austin-based bluegrass stringband Wood & Wire comes out the gate hard and fast with their debut, self-titled album. Like a chattering tommy gun, Trevor Smith’s rapid-fire banjo picking explodes from his strings, opening the album with one heck of a bang. The opening song, “Mexico,” is so strong and self-assured that you’ll find yourself wondering where these kids came from. The tale of a convict on the run, “Mexico” unfolds like a Tarantino grindhouse flick, the first sign of many on this album that Wood & Wire have found a way to take the same incendiary spark of bluegrass that first put the music on the map back in the late 1940s and channel it into a sound for a new generation.

Wood & Wire have the whole package: red-hot picking, cutting-edge musical arrangements, jet-propelled vocal harmonies, and a knack for writing songs that tell a story. It’s no wonder they’re lighting up the Austin roots music scene, are opening for Yonder Mountain Stringband’s early 2013 tour, and are due for a breakout performance at SXSW this year. They did all this through the power of their music. It’s bluegrass, but with a heavy twang; Monroe-inspired tradition that owes a near equal dose of love to songwriters like Robert Plant, Willie Nelson, or Texas songwriters like Robert Earl Keen and Billy Joe Shaver.



Prepare to be blown away by their killer banjo opening in "Mexico":


Formed as a duo in 2010, guitarist Tony Kamel and mandolinist Matt Slusher had both got their start playing with artists like Graham Wilkinson, South Austin Jug Band, and Rodney Hayden. Adding banjo picker Trevor Smith (from Green Mountain Grass) and bassist Dom Fisher, they built the complex arrangements on their debut album from scratch and shared the songwriting duties across the board, with each band member contributing in some way. It’s a remarkably egalitarian view, and a sign that this band is a tightly interlocking unit that’s built to last.


Their debut album has a wide variety of songs–and some tunes too! The material ranges from the historical (“Coal Mining One” is set in 1940s Kentucky) to the heartbreaking (“Setting the World on Fire”) to the humorous (the raucous “Rollin’ in the Washingtons” takes a less-than-sober look at the financial situations–or lack thereof–of touring bluegrass musicians who have a taste for liquor and an eye for the ladies). Tight, three-part harmonies, sprightly mandolin, and rolling banjo keep the band’s sound grassy, while contemporary flourishes, like the cutting-edge arrangements and contemporary subject matter, speak to the group’s diverse backgrounds and far-flung musical influences.

Wood & Wire take the best elements of bluegrass – blazing power-picking and intense vocal harmonies – and blend this with contemporary songwriting and arrangements, and influences from across the spectrum of American roots music. That’s the key to their appeal, but the key to their success will be based on the blood, sweat, and tears they’re going to shed as they move from Austin’s favorite stringband into the national spotlight. Let’s help them on their way.


Wood & Wire: "Setting the World On Fire"


Wood & Wire: "Coal Mining One"




blog date 02/14/2013  | comments comments (0)

Hearth Music at Folk Alliance 2013


We're packing today to head out to the 2013 Folk Alliance International Conference in Toronto this week! We went in 2010 and had a blast meeting new friends, discovering great bands, and staying up way too late. Are you going to Folk Alliance? Be sure to say hi to Devon from Hearth there! He's bringing the brand-new album from California songwriter Rita Hosking and will have extra copies of most of the albums we're currently promoting. AND--- Hearth Music will be running a showcase room during Folk Alliance, along with our good friends from 12X12 Management (Pokey Lafarge, Betse Ellis) and Quicksilver Productions (Frank Solivan, New Country Rehab, Caleb Klauder). Check out our killer lineup:

ROOM 1029
, Delta Chelsea Hotel
Toronto, ON

-Nora Jane Struthers & the Party Line   10:30pm
     Classic Americana from Powerful Songwriter
-Tony Furtado   11pm
     Dazzling Banjo/Guitar Virtuoso and New Folk Leader
-Charlie Parr     11:30pm
     Haunted Country Blues Songwriting Prophet
-Phoebe Hunt     12am
     Soulful Songstress of the New American Songbook
-Joe Crookston    12:30am
     NY State Songwriting Poet Troubadour
-Betse Ellis    1am
      Firecracker Ozark Fiddler, Singer, Songwriter
-Raina Rose    1:30am
      Lovely Texas Songstress and Folk Leader
-De Temps Antan     2am
      Intensely Powerful French-Canadian Trad Trio

ROOM 1029
, Delta Chelsea Hotel
Toronto, ON

-Laura Cortese   10:30pm
     Powerhouse Post-Folk Fiddler, Singer, Songwriter
-Ryan Spearman   11pm
     "the jujitsu master of folk music"
-Mary Jane Lamond & Wendy MacIsaac   11:30pm
      Two Masters of Cape Breton's Scottish Traditions
-The Revelers   12am
       Louisiana Cajun Roots Meet Country Honky-Tonk
-Phoebe Hunt    12:30am
      Soulful Songstress of the New American Songbook
-New Country Rehab   1am
      Altered, Acoustic Indie-Country Songsmiths
-Chris Coole & Ivan Rosenberg   1:30am
     Sublime Bluegrass and Old-Time Roots Music
-Baskery   2am
     "Sweden's own wildwood flowers"
-The Mastersons   2:30am
      Husband and wife duo, Deft instrumentalists, Texas groove

ROOM 1029
, Delta Chelsea Hotel
Toronto, ON

-Head for the Hills   10:30pm
      Boundary Pushing Colorado Bluegrass Quartet
-Reed Turner   11:00pm
      Outsider Art Singer-Songwriter from Austin
-Betse Ellis  11:30pm
      Firecracker Ozark Fiddler, Singer, Songwriter
-The Bills  12am
      Globally Inspired Roots Music from Western Canada
-Melody Walker & Jacob Groopman   12:30am
      Americali Singer-Songwriter w/Global Roots + Country Twang
-New Country Rehab   1am
     Altered, Acoustic Indie-Country Songsmiths
-Pharis & Jason Romero   1:30am
     The Pure Mastery of American Old-Time Traditions
-Roosevelt Dime   2am
     Jug-Band Blues, New Orleans Soul, Neo-Folk Roots
-Betse Ellis & New Country Rehab    2:30am
      All-Star Jam Session to Close it Out!

Stop by Folk Alliance Room 1029 at night for a visit and listen to some of our favorite artists and friends. This truly is a top-flight lineup in our view, and we can't wait to present such amazing music. See you at Folk Alliance 2013!!

blog date 02/13/2013  | comments comments (0)

HearthPR: Pharis & Jason Romero Return to Their Roots

Pharis & Jason Romero

Long Gone Out West Blues


We here at Hearth Music are especially excited to be working once again with the stunning duo Pharis & Jason Romero. Following on the heels of their first album A Passing Glimpse—which just won the Canadian Folk Music Award for "New/Emerging Artist of the Year"—their newest album continues to raise the bar on great folk music.

At this point, with the release of their stunning sophomore album, Long Gone Out West Blues, it’s inevitable that Canadian roots duo Pharis & Jason Romero will be compared to Gillian Welch & David Rawlings. This is because the Romeros write songs that are both dicult to tell from the traditional sources that inspired them AND sound impossibly fresh and new. Pharis & Jason’s songs contain the element of transcendence. It’s the effortless moment of flight when a bird takes wing, or the zen precision of a master archer placing an arrow, or the soft wooden curve of a chair turned by the hand of a true craftsman. It’s the mark of artists who’ve mastered their craft to such a degree that they’re able to move the traditions to a new state. That’s why you’ll recognize every song on Pharis & Jason Romero’s new album, even the songs they’ve written themselves or sourced from rare field recordings. Because you’ll recognize the hand of the master in their music.

Pharis & Jason Romero make their lives in the deep wilds of British Columbia, working from their homestead outside the town of Horsefly. They are professional instrument makers, and Jason’s banjos are some of the best in the world. They work together every day in their workshop, and retire to the house to make music in the evenings. It’s an idyllic lifestyle, and shows the closeness between this husband and wife duo that is echoed in their music. On Long Gone Out West Blues, their voices meld as eortlessly as their instruments, intertwining on an instinctual level. Their instruments intertwine as well, as both are masterful guitarists in the vein of Norman Blake. Instrumentally, Jason Romero presents some of his best work on this record, drawing deep beauty out of the wordless subtlety of his playing. His sublimely beautiful banjo leads o two instrumental sets, and his finger-picked guitar work, intended to sound more like flat picking, sparkles along the strings.

Spending so much time immersed in American folk traditions, both Pharis & Jason Romero have a wealth of knowledge to draw from in choosing the songs on their new album. The cold- blooded hymn “It Just Suits Me” is taken from a field recording of Georgia Sea Island singers, vintage country song “Truck Driver’s Blues” came from a radio broadcast from the 40s, and “Waiting for the Evening Mail” is from a 78 of old-time singer Riley Puckett. But the real focus of the album should be on their original songs, written by Pharis Romero. Pharis has always been a powerful songwriter, and she’s come into her own with this record. “Sad Old Song,” has lovely verses speaking to the life of traveling musicians struggling to make their voices heard, the heart-rending ballad “I Want to Be Lucky” is a weary hard-luck story, and “Come On Home” is a gentle, soothing balm of hope for those looking for home after a hard day. What’s remarkable about Pharis’ songs are how they’re able to sound like traditional songs while still communicating something new. It’s hard to tell “Lonely Home Blues” from an old 78rpm country blues song, and “The Little Things Are Hardest in the End” could easily be a vintage country hit.

You get the same feeling listening to Pharis & Jason Romero that you do looking at an old photograph. Their music touches something deeper than the music of our present day. It taps into something larger than ourselves. Their music reminds us of where we came from and points the way to where American folk music is going today.

Pharis & Jason Romero: "Sad Old Song"



Pharis & Jason Romero: "Truck Driver's Blues"


Pharis & Jason Romero: Long Gone Out West Blues



blog date 02/12/2013  | comments comments (0)