If the band name To All My Dear Friends doesn’t ring familiar, the music will: It’s the indie-classical project of violinist Marc Hennessey, who performs on the streets of Asheville. He works loops and effects with a stripe-socked foot while crafting emotive melodies that soar above the busy streets and stop crowds of tourists in their tracks.
But Hennessey, who is often joined by percussionist Josh Newton, is relatively new to busking. Before picking Asheville as his home base more than three years ago, the Florida native was touring nonstop, as well as scoring films and taking commissions for ballets.
“Street performing, for me, evolved in Asheville,” Hennessey says. Faced with sacrificing sound quality to play outside while surrounded by commotion, he updated his gear, including special amplifiers. He also put in a lot of time developing his sound so that, when he plays on Pack Square or in front of Spiritex, it’s concert-hall quality.
“I didn’t expect the response on the street to be so similar to the response in venues,” Hennessey says. Bolstered by the passionate reactions of passersby, he decided to finance his new album, Bloom, with money earned from busking. Forget Kickstarter. “I call it analog crowdfunding, without the use of a computer,” says the musician. “It’s true grassroots. People just want to see you succeed.”
The album releases with two local shows, on Saturday, Sept. 20, and Sunday, Sept. 21. It will be available beginning Friday, Sept. 12, at To All My Dear Friends street performances.
The violinist is featured in the locally based documentary, Buskin’ Blues. Of his fellow buskers he says, “A lot of us are good friends, and it’s not easy to make money on the streets of Asheville. [But] if you’re willing to do something unique that grabs people, then they will respond to it.”
Some of what Hennessey has learned from his time busking comes from the instant feedback of his constantly revolving audience. “When you have a crowd of 100 people, they’re all elevating together with you. Once I could feel that, I could play with it in the music, and it brought about a shift in me,” he says. “I feel like I’m in a blossoming period.” Hence the name of his album.
Much of Bloom was written just as Hennessey was getting into street performance; some was composed in that setting. The album was recorded in four studios with a Grammy-winning engineer, but the violinist also plans to record a live street album in the future.
“There’s all this noise and stimulation on the street, and people are desensitized,” he says. “But if I can get their attention for just 10 minutes, if my music can bring clarity to their personal situation, then I’ve succeeded in my goal.”
WHAT: To All My Dear Friends’ album release for Bloom, toallmydearfriends.com
WHERE: The Landing, 68 Kentucky Drive, West Asheville, on Saturday, Sept. 20, at 10 p.m. Donations at the door
WHERE: Buskin’ Blues screening event at The Orange Peel, on Sunday, Sept. 21, at 6 p.m. $15