The Busker’s Way Part II: The Fiddler in the Market

The Busker’s Way Part I was an introductory look at the talented musicians and artists who busk in Seattle’s vibrant Pike Place Market. In writing that, I benefitted greatly from having Faith Grossnicklaus as a guide. She’s a talented and stylish fiddler, member of the band Roselit Bone, traveling musician, and a ceramic artist. That makes for a busy schedule, so when I sent her some questions for a profile Q&A, I anticipated getting some short answers that I’d include in the initial piece. But when I read the responses, a separate but related post seemed the way to go.

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Faith Grossnicklaus plays the fiddle at Pike Place Market. Seattle, WA. April 2017. (Photo by Seattle photographer Danny Ngan. Instagram: @dannyngan

Q&A with Roselit Bone’s Faith Grossnicklaus

SB: I’d never heard Roselit Bone play, but after reading Will Stenberg’s writeup on the website, I had to check it out…”Dark, dystopian lyrics, shades of Marty Robbins and Nick Cave, and pedal steel notes flying like shrapnel.” (paraphrased) That is good writing. How long have you been playing with Roselit Bone, and what’s next for the band?

FG: I met Roselit Bone two years ago in Portland when I was touring with another group, An American Forrest (whose most recent album I was hired to record on), who opened for them at Kelly’s Olympian. I had never head of them before that but was immediately blown away and awestruck as soon as the first note of their title track ‘Roselit Bone’ hit. After the show Josh, the lead vocalist and electric guitar player, sent me an email asking if I would like to be on their next album, recording date pending. I gladly accepted, ever since that show at Kelly’s I had been wanting to work with them more than anything.

It wasn’t till I was flying home from a UK tour on a 9 hour layover in the Istanbul airport when I got another email from Josh asking if I could be in Portland the following week for the recording session – attached two mp3s and pdf sheet music copies for ‘Like So Much Garbage’ and ‘Glint’. I got back to Seattle, practiced as much as time would allow, then headed down to Portland for the recording. The original agreement was for me to be hired on for the record recording and the album release tour in June and July once everything was all out and ready to go. Then I was invited back for another rehearsal, and then another, then a show in December and one in January, then asked to go on a trip with them to Washington, and then on their tour to Austin, Texas to play the SXSW music festival in March. At this point I think it’s safe to say I’m stuck with them, I’ve never felt more supported by any collaborative group, and with a 9 piece band there’s never a dull moment.

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Faith Grossnicklaus, Musician, Fiddler, Ceramic Artist, Pike Place Market, May 2017.

Coming up next we are playing Northwest Folk Life in the American Standard Time lineup, and then we’ve got our record release at the Doug Fir on May 31st in Portland before we hit the road for the record release tour at the end of June. We’re doing a loop around the country starting in Seattle and ending in Portland and hitting just about everywhere circling the country. As a band we are signed with the record label Friendship Fever based out of Sacramento … with their backing and the help from our booking agent and publisher I think this could really go somewhere.

SB: I got interested in profiling Pike Place Market buskers when I heard that Claire Michelle was doing it. I tagged along with Claire Michelle when she applied for her busking permit. I liked how straight-forward the process was. She was in and out of that office in 20 minutes, armed with a one year permit.

But I was also curious about whether there were any unwritten rules or etiquette. Seems like it could be a little like surfing. Anyone with a surfboard can get in the water, but if you’re a reckless amateur stealing waves or putting others at risk, you can make some enemies. (I’m not a surfer, but I’ve seen Point Break (the original) and North Shore.)

Are there unwritten rules, secret handshakes, and pecking orders in the Pike Place Market busking world, or is it all pretty informal and easy-going? Does it run pretty smoothly, or can someone run the risk of getting blacklisted?

FG: Pike Place is a much more formal busking location than most places I’ve played around the world. Some people have a problem with how you have to have a permit, but I prefer it. It’s only $30 per year which allows you to busk in any of the certified busking pitches in the market from 9am-9pm everyday all year round. You get there, sign up, play for your hour set and then move on to find another pitch. Occasionally you will get people trying to camp spots (staying for longer than they can and not telling the truth about when they started), but overall it runs pretty smoothly.

The buskers are considered employees of the market, all the vendors and security guards have always had my back if anything goes wrong or if I’m having a problem with someone. I’ve heard that people have been blacklisted from the market before, but have never witnessed it.

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Faith Grossnicklaus, Pike Place Market, Seattle, May 2017.

SB: I won’t ask for your busking secrets, but have you got favorite spots or times of the day? It seems like that spot right out in front of the iconic neon sign would be prime territory.

FG: Mostly I stick to the pitch between Pike Place Flowers and Left Bank Books, and the spot by the stairs next to Post Alley. I tend to do the best there, but it is completely different from busker to busker. A lot of people like the spot by the clock under the main Public Market sign and the spot by Starbucks, but I’ve never done well there. Everyone knows what spot works for them and sticks to it. It’s not often that people are running around trying new spots everyday.

SB: Do you know most of the other buskers, or is it pretty transient, with people coming and going with the seasons and band schedules?

FG: Performers come and go with the season, but overall it’s the same core group. I’m personal friends with a lot of the buskers. It’s not uncommon that we will all go drab dinner or drinks at the end of the day, or all go over to someone’s house for a jam session.

SB: Roselit Bone has you listed on the violin. On Instagram you describe yourself as a fiddle player. Please don’t roll your eyes on this one – is there a distinction? Does it signal a different style or type of music?

FG: Whenever Im out performing and someone asks me what the difference between a violin and a fiddle is I usually make some sassy remark like “You can’t spill beer on a violin” and have a laugh before I actually do any explaining. Violin and fiddle are the same instrument, it just depends on what style you’re playing or how you were taught. I started out taking celtic fiddle lessons when I was 7 years old so I will always consider myself a fiddle player. The instrument is traditionally called a violin, so when listed in a musical lineup it just makes more sense to use that terminology.

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Faith Grossnicklaus, Pike Place Market, Seattle, May 2017.

SB: I saw that you and a gentleman called Strangely Doesburg played the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Photographer/writer Philippe Monthoux got some great shots of you two. How was that? Have you been back? Traveling and busking sounds romantic, but I’m sure it can be stressful. Any plans to hit the road like that again? If so, where to?

FG: I’ve done the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for the past two years as a busker, and have it lined up to go back again this year. It’s the only other setting that I’ve found to be equally as consistent to the busking at Pike Place. You have to register for a permit, and it’s all run very professionally – there’s a whole crew specifically to take care of street performers. I’ve become dear friends with many of the buskers from that festival who come to Edinburgh every year; occasionally I’ll run into them in other parts of the world as well.

Traveling and busking can certainly be romantic, but is also VERY hard work. I’m a full time performer and part time ceramic artist, most of my income comes from busking and playing shows, the rest from selling art. I love it, I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else, but there are always obstacles and challenges just like in any profession.

I’ll be hitting the road with Roselit in June, getting back at the end of July, flying to London shortly after and then heading up to Edinburgh for the festival. I’ll be there all August working the festival and then take some time to travel around the country a bit before heading back to the Northwest at the end of September to play a festival in Los Angeles with Roselit, and doing a mini tour around it. Last year I spent some time in the Isle of Skye learning from my favorite Scottish music duo, Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas, at a workshop at the Gaelic college on the island before the festival. I also spent time in London with friends and playing at some of the local farmers markets, as well as taking some personal time off in Athens, Greece before flying home.

I’m always planning for my next adventure, it’s very rare that I’m stationary for more than a few months at a time. In addition to Edinburgh, this year I’m hoping to go back to Greece and London as well as visit family in Oslo. We will see where the wind takes me!

Strangely and I first met at Oregon Country Fair a few years back, where I’ve been busking ever since I could play one song all the way through, and that he’s been performing at for the past five years or so. One summer he asked if I would like to play in his show, and things just went from there. That was four years ago now, and shortly after the festival that year I recorded on his album A Thrilling Tale of Yesteryear with Aaron J. Shay on tracks Fiddlers Green and Grab Your Bag. After that we were often in the same place, collaborating on projects whenever we were in the same city, and keeping in touch the best we could on the road. Since then I’ve played several shows with him and friends, as well as recorded on his most recent album, Roaring Accordion.

SB: Your vintage clothing is awesome. I headed to Pike Place Market the other day to catch your show. I missed it, but you were easy to spot in the crowd – vintage red dress and hat. Do you make those clothes?

FG: I’ve been dressing up ever since I can remember and I’ve always loved vintage clothes. In the past people seemed to care so much more about what they looked like and how they presented themselves. I like to keep it flashy and classy, and the combination of pin curls, my London Sparkles hat from Goorin Brothers, cuban heal back seam stockings, and a vintage dress is how I like to do it. I have a collection of vintage western shirts and square dance skirts I wear when I’m playing with Roselit. No matter what or where I’m playing I like to wear something fun.

I don’t make my own clothes but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I own a sewing machine that doesn’t get nearly enough use – but it’s a goal for the future. All my clothes are usually found in second-hand stores or thrift shops. One of the funnest things about traveling on the road is stopping in for some local flair at the vintage shops if you’ve got the time. I’ve found that I make more money if I’m dressed up, busking is about the whole package and the ‘look’ more than a stage show can be most of the time. You have to be eye-catching and sound good. Sometimes when I’m wearing my 50’s dresses I see the look in the eyes of some older women that they owned a dress just like that back in the day. It’s also just a good conversation piece, but at the end of the day I just really like dressing up.

SB: Last question. Your ceramic art is cool. I saw on your website that you made an Evil Eye piece. I taught English in Turkey ages ago and saw that everywhere. Is that piece still available?

FG: Here’s the link to my shop – Bone China Designs. [At the time of writing] The evil eyes are still available! I’ve been touring a lot this year so there isn’t as much in stock as usual… But ceramic work is what I do when I’m not playing music.

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