Abby the Spoon Lady and Chris Rodrigues have two upcoming shows in Black Mountain
For Abby Roach and Chris Rodrigues, the ideal performance venue is a sidewalk, but they'll fill a theater when given the chance.
The pair, who've been performing together for five years, have gained national fame for their busking in downtown Asheville and other cities. Billed as "Abby the Spoon Lady and Chris Rodrigues," the duo will play two sold-out shows Jan. 26 and 27 at White Horse Black Mountain, a performing arts and event center. A third show was added for Feb. 21, which was also expected to sell out.
While playing indoors may sound a little more comfortable in the winter, Roach and Rodrigues say their aim is to bring that busking energy and intimacy indoors.
"We’ve just gotten so comfortable with it, it’s like people are visiting us in our living room," Roach said as she sat in the kitchen of the mobile home in Woodfin she calls "Spooniversal Studios," only half-jokingly. "It doesn’t feel like putting on a show any more — it feels like you’re hanging out with a bunch of people.”
“Trying to give them a happy part of their day, even if they’re having a good day,” Rodrigues added, describing their philosophy. “It’s nice to share a moment with people you don’t know, because you can kind of have a conversation without actually even talking."
While they play some strictly musical shows, they also do combination music/storytelling performances, which is what they'll bring to Black Mountain.
Busking icons in Asheville
Locals are probably most familiar with the couple from their busking in downtown Asheville, where Roach plays the spoons with unerring rhythm and a flair for the dramatic, occasionally dinging a service bell to acknowledge tips or communicate with the crowd. Rodrigues strums and picks resonator or acoustic guitars, and plays harmonica, a foot tambourine made in part with bottle caps and a bass drum that's actually a suitcase.
They used to put in two or three sets a day in downtown, even playing on warmer days in the fall and winter to cover the bills. But they've dialed that back considerably, in part to lessen the wear and tear on Roach's hands and wrists.
Roach in particular is highly savvy to internet marketing, monitoring their clicks and traffic on Google, Youtube and Instagram. She also oversees the marketing of their CDs and merchandise through their website, spoonladymusic.com.
They've got 115,000 subscribers on Youtube, enough to earn some decent income from their frequent videos, and more than 400,000 followers on Facebook. They also have inspired a mysteriously keen interest in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston areas in Texas, Roach notes, two massive 52-inch computer screens in the background.
So yes, they've been able to take the foot off the gas a bit on busking, although it will always be their favorite venue. Earlier in January, they played two sold-out shows at Asheville's Habitat Brewing.
"For us, when we play (inside), we do ticketed events,” said Roach, who is also president of the Asheville Buskers Collective. “We don’t play restaurants or bars anymore, just ticketed shows – and busking wherever it’s legal.”
“Which is so fun,” Rodrigues adds.
“That’ll always be our favorite,” Roach quickly adds.
“There’s so much of a connection that we can have with people that wouldn’t normally even go to a show,” Rodrigues said. “They don’t realize they want to see this, and then they stop and it’s really awesome.”
Although Rodrigues, 29, writes their songs and literally carries a heavier load on the instruments, Roach, 37, has garnered much of the attention for her chattering, clacking, popping spoons, which she swirls about her head and knees. It is a marvel to watch her play the large, solid steel vintage spoons she favors, although it wasn't always that way.
"At first people would give me money out of pity, I think," Roach said with a laugh. "Eventually, I figured it out.”
A native of Wichita, Kansas, Roach rode the rails in her 20s, seeing all of the 48 contiguous United States, courtesy of the freight train industry. On a stopover in Savannah, Georgia, a Peruvian guy named Gil taught her the basics of spoon playing, but "it took awhile" — and a lot of practice — for her to master them.
Now she routinely fends off email invitations from shows such as "America's Got Talent," asking her to perform.
She and Rodrigues play a funky mix of "Appalachian blues and gospel," as Rodrigues calls it.
"Appalachian funk," Roach quickly corrects.
"It’s hard to tell,” Rodrigues said. “I grew up on bluegrass and traditional Appalachian style music. My uncle played banjo, and then I like rock 'n’ roll. So I guess it’s loud and heavy, too. I don’t know – blues, gospel, Appalachian, funk, soul. We need a better name for this, Abby.”
“I don’t know what to tell you,” Abby says with a laugh.
They've got one CD out, titled "Working on Wall Street," a nod to their busking on the Asheville street of that name. Overall, they're happy with their level of success, although they're always looking to expand their audience.
The pair are a couple in the band and out, so the back and forth comes naturally.
Peace has come harder. Roach doesn't like talking about one of her signature features — she has no teeth — simply noting an ex-husband played a role and referring a reporter to a Washington Post story last year that took a deep dive into her life.
That story, written by David Rowell, detailed some of that rocky relationship and Roach's decision to let her parents care for her three children. Some of her teeth were knocked out, some badly deteriorated, so Roach decided to have them all extracted before she left Kansas.
Roach told Rowell that it was a way to start anew, although some people look at her thin frame and hollow mouth and make assumptions that she's a meth or crack addict. But she also noted that others message her about their lack of teeth, drawing strength from her being so comfortable with herself.
Her look — kind of spoon diva meets hardscrabble 19th century Appalachian mountain farmer — does become part of the show. Roach occasionally hams it up with her rubbery facial features for a crowd laugh.
Rodrigues also has a distinctive look, one he says is not intentional but rather derives from his deep mountain roots. On a recent weekday, he wore a black top hat with feather, black vest, trousers and shoes and a white shirt, as well as a full complement of silver jewelry.
"I remember my first band in the eighth grade, I made it a point to wear a suit, vest and a hat, even though it was rock 'n’roll,” said Rodrigues, who grew up in northern Buncombe County. "I like black and white, though. I’m going for that, as far as I choose to wear black and white suits, ‘cause I feel like white is on the inside. I’ve got Jesus in my heart, and I’m surrounded by a world of evil, so I wear black.”
About Abby the Spoon Lady and Chris Rodrigues
Upcoming shows: Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 26 and 27, at White Horse Black Mountain (both shows are sold out).
On the web: https://spoonladymusic.com/
Facebook: Abby the Spoon Lady