Busking might seem, to some, like a jumping-off point for a career of ever-larger stages. But Nashville-by-way-of-Asheville roots musician Woody Pines looks at street performance as an accompaniment to the concert hall. “We take the time to busk when we’re in neat places. Asheville would qualify as a special downtown. It’s pedestrian-friendly, which is really rare,” he says. “We’ve been lucky enough to spend a week at Martha’s Vineyard for the last couple of years. It’s pedestrian-friendly, so we play on the street there.”
In fact, Pines, who returns to Asheville on Friday, May 29, for a show at Jack of the Wood, honed his craft on the streets of New Orleans. A palm reader foretold that his time in the Crescent City would affect the direction of his life for years to come. It has: Pines’ new, self-titled album, set to be released by Muddy Roots Music in June, delves even more deeply into the swing, ragtime, folk and jazz lexicons of the American songbook that define his sound. His French Quarter-learned performance techniques are intact.
What’s not apparent on the record: Pines’ pre-guitar forays into music on novelty instruments like washboard and kazoo. “I actually started out playing a cheese grater,” he says. “I had a vision when I was starting out that when I was an old man with a beard, busking would be nice. I’ll either die obscure or set up in the south of France with my guitar and class up the place.”
For now, Pines and his bandmates — Skip Frontz Jr. on stand-up bass and Brad Tucker on guitar — are keeping busy classing up other towns and stages. The trio recently toured Europe, where, Pines says, he knew it was going to be good as soon as he landed in Manchester. “I got invited to play an open mic, and before I knew it, there were six or seven people walking around town. It was after last call, so I invited them back to the hotel.” The resulting party led to the band nearly being kicked out of the hotel in true rock star fashion.
The trio was on the road for 26 days and played every day except one, including daytime gigs at rural high schools. “We were the first Americans some kids had met,” Pines says. But the connection between traditional music from the U.K. and the Woody Pines repertoire is not so far-fetched. “They hear their Celtic roots in our music,” Pines says. “They even hear it in our stuff, which is blues and ragtime. … I’m trying to learn to hear it. There are Scottish fiddlers who told me they traveled to Africa and found tribes playing one-string fiddle instruments, and they sound like Irish reels.”
A more immediate connection between the U.K. and U.S. came from the band’s tour manager in the British Isles. Gerald Roche, a longtime roadie, not only helped out Pines and company but worked with bands like Fishbone and on the inaugural Lolapalooza tour. “Now he’s retired from the big rock bands and tours dysfunctional American bands,” jokes Pines.
But such a connection is invaluable. “Do-it-yourself is empowering because you just have to start on your own,” says the musician. “But you have to build a team. So do-it-yourself is kind of a misnomer because you can’t do it yourself. You have to have the people you trust.”
Among Pines’ teammates is longtime collaborator Felix Hatfield and new label Muddy Roots Music. “I wanted to make something really good because you have someone behind you, someone willing to invest,” Pines says of the Nashville-based record producer whose catalog includes Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers and The Tillers. He adds, “We’re the only band that has the deal we have. … I wanted to do them proud.”
Pines’ well-curated eponymous album offers up a huge variety of sounds, from the swaggering “Make it to the Woods” to the tender, swooning “Little Stella Blue.” There’s plenty for dancers; plenty, too, for those who just want to hold hands and tap their wingtips in unison. The band will perform those songs (and have advance copies of the record for sale) at Jack of the Wood; they’ll play WNCW’s Studio B just before the Asheville show.
WHO: Woody Pines
WHERE: Jack of the Wood, jackofthewood.com
WHEN: Friday, May 29, 9 p.m. $7