Cast In Concrete tracks Vijith Assar as he records New York City’s street musicians. If you’ll be busking nearby soon and would like to appear in a future installment, please let him know.
Who: Monica Bethelwood and Juliet Biemiller
When: 12/22/2011, 8:30pm
Where: Intersection of Bleecker and MacDougal, northwest corner
Sorry, I know we’re long overdue for another sweet busker MP3, but I’ve been more or less flattened by the flu that’s been going around, so you’ll have to excuse me if I don’t feel like traipsing around out there at the moment. Instead, let’s go with one from the archives that never quite made it through the editorial gauntlet back when I did decide to brave the elements last year — here’s the formidably dreadlocked duo of North Carolina singer Monica Bethelwood and her pal Juliet Biemiller, captured on the northwest corner of Bleecker and MacDougal way back when it was a hacky-looking Asian fusion restaurant (it is now a coffee shop, I believe). Bethelwood told me she’d just returned from California, and given the hobo-folk vibe I was quite content to just assume that she hitched a ride on a rusty freight train. (One of her songs was called “Hubba Hubba Hobo,” actually.) She has since set up shop in North Carolina; “I moved to Asheville with 20 dollars in my pocket,” she told me recently, so I like to think she now travels between her gigs doing tarot card readings riding atop a rickety old mule (one of those things is actually true).
Since it was her birthday, Biemiller was off shopping for cheap wine when I first arrived, and when she finally turned up she used something called a “banjolele,” which is exactly what it sounds like, improvising harmonies along with Bethelwood’s song “Sail Away,” which she didn’t actually know. Not that you could tell. To this day it’s still one of the most enchanting performances I’ve caught in almost two years of doing these recordings. And this is even despite the following warts, for which I must apologize:
1) stoner doofus cutting in to ask if he can sing the next verse (no, because you do not know it, numbnuts)
2) siren wailing away nearby (Monica’s priceless giggly response, without missing a strum: “fire truck solo!”)
3) Montana howling, either at the fire truck or along with the song (not entirely sure but would obviously prefer to assume the latter)
I wasn’t the only one drawn in by this; NYU students politely requesting more songs, free pastries delivered by the delighted baker from across the street, and a middle-aged woman wearing thick-rimmed Velma-from-Scooby-Doo glasses giving Monica what I must assume was a pretty big bill, since she immediately tucked it away and said “Sweet, now I have a bus ticket for tomorrow.” Oh, shit; so much for my freight train and mule theories.
In the hat: every last dime I had on me, however much that was?
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 18, 2013