The Situation I'm spending the evening with the young folksinger Ben Fisher at Aster Coffee Lounge in Ballard, just blocks away from Fisher's most frequently played venue, the Sunday Ballard Farmers Market. Fisher's been busking at the market for six years, ever since he moved here from Atlanta as a high-school freshman. He's there "every non-rainy Sunday," a fact I can confirm since I am also there every non-rainy Sunday. Fisher's voice is distinctly round, confident, and booming, just right for a street singer looking for attention. "Yeah, and the very wrong voice for the other buskers who have to stay way the hell away," he laughs.
How He Got Here Fisher's in his third year at UW, where he's studying Arabic. What's he hoping to do with a degree in Arabic? "Nothing, hopefully!" he says. "I want the music to work out." It did for Glen Hansard, the Academy Award-winning folksinger of The Swell Season, who got his start busking on the streets of Dublin as a teenager. And for now, the money's not bad. On a good day, Fisher can pull $150 an hour at the market--"I worked at Starbucks in high school," he says, "and that was fine, but I'm making generally about as much as I would be making there, just playing guitar."
Shop Talk At the market, Fisher plays mostly upbeat covers of Townes Van Zandt, Loretta Lynn, and his favorite, Bob Dylan (he's seen Dylan in concert eight times, including once in Paris), but his own compositions are slower, easier-going. Last year he finish a full-length called Heavy Boots & Underwoods; Underwood refers to the typewriter brand, and "heavy boots" comes from the Jonathan Safran Foer novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. "The kid is supposedly autistic, and every time he's depressed about something he calls it 'heavy boots,' " Fisher explains. "I just love the ring of that!"
BTW "Turns out I like to write about fish a lot," says Fisher. To wit, he's got a song called "Cast Your Line," and there's a salmon on the cover of Heavy Boots. "It's kind of weird because you always hear 'Write about what you know,' and I know nothing about fishing. It's very strange. I've never been fishing once."
I mention that nature is a commonly drawn-upon poetic subject. "I feel like there's not a nature cliché with fish," he says. "I might be on to something."
Ben Fisher is playing at the Fremont Abbey Arts Center this Thursday, January 19, with Nick Drummond & Tyler Carson and Taylor Bolibol. It's an all-ages show, starts at 7 p.m., and there's a $5-$7 cover.