Busker Joe & his wide river

December 3, 2015

Busker Joe on accordion, with friend.

Every Saturday in Santa Fe I woke up early and excited because it was Farmers Market day.  Between the incredible produce, of which we purchased liberal quantities and enjoyed every bite, the wide-range of shops selling shawls, cards and coffee, books, aprons, socks and I could go on, well, Santa Fe Farmers Market at the Railyard is an experience I can’t wait to repeat next year. This year, we went every single Saturday.

The week before we left, I stood riveted to a soulful performer, who, in the early morning sunshine, was singing in the tradition of itinerant folksingers. One of his folk songs was so  moving that I videotaped part of it, hoping to capture the lyrics and find it online. No luck.

So the following Saturday, our last in Santa Fe, I once again got up early and in the very cold morning air, set out to find the man known as Busker Joe. And there he was, with a guitarist pal seated next to him, that same soulful folk  music filling the fall air.

His card said he was J Michael Combs, and so when he took a break, I approached him.

“Mr. Combs, I heard you do a song last week and I fell in love with it. Can you listen to this video and tell me what it is?”

He listened and handed my phone to the guitarist so he could listen.

“Sister,” he said, “the song is Wide River to Cross and it’s by Buddy Miller, although Levon Helm had it on his Dirt album.”

He then spent a few minutes teaching his guitarist friend the key and chords, and next thing I knew, he performed the song for me.  A woman who had overheard me talk with him also videotaped the performance, and mouthed to me over the song, “It’s beautiful!”

It is. Haunting folk music. At least I think it’s folk music.

Now, I suppose it’s not unusual for a busker to have his own website, as Mr. Combs does. Who wouldn’t be curious about this interesting looking man?

What was he all about? I wasn’t disappointed by his website. Doesn’t he sound interesting? From his website:

I’m a student of history, a believer in the Spirit of the Universe, a grandpa, a Dreamer, and a Local. I’m a dried-up old drunkard, a veteran draft-dodger, back-to-the-land, hope-to-God-to-die, a Proud, Born-Again Hippie. I’ve done lots of things I’m not proud of, but I’ve made amends the best I can. I believe we’re all here on assignment, to re-weave the Sacred Web of Life. Since we agreed to come here to do this work, it doesn’t become us to kick and complain. Happiness in itself is an unworthy goal, but rather a by-product of a life dedicated to Love & Service. We need to each become Warriors of Love and Justice.

I was a wood-cutter, log-faller, pole-peeler, mill hand, published author, migrant fruit picker, tree planter, construction laborer, mechanic’s helper, taxicab driver, daycare worker, a ditch-digger, substitute teacher from pre-school to college, hitch-hiker, student of two-legged people and their ways, baker, sheepherder, weatherizer, dish-washer, landscaper,panned for gold, been a farm hand, ranch hand, personal attendant, both an actor and an extra in the movies, truck driver, fugitive, rock-breaker, been a cane-cutter, harvested beans, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, grapefruit, apples and oranges, bucked hay, plowed and skidded with horses and mules, built log cabins and made adobe bricks — plumbed, wired, framed, poured concrete & plastered. Ridden bulls and horses, castrated, dug post holes, butchered turkeys and hogs, goats, snakes, lizards, bugs & calves — mostly with the owner’s permission.

I sing songs and play tunes with Heart, con Corazon. The old new Mexican marchas, cutilios, cuadrillas chotises y polkas; old Texas Blues, Quebecois Reels & Jigs, Gospel & Honky-Tonk, Labor & Union Songs, Folk and Protest songs, a song of the Sea, an Appalachian murder ballad or a 500-year-old maiden’s lament — my repertoire is a Mile Wide and an inch deep. The inch-wide, mile-deep repertoire can’t hold me, though i respect those who go that route.

May these old songs and tunes strengthen your heart; may your family be mended, may you never eat food grown by strangers, and from that center of Love may you venture forth each day to offer your own peculiar gift to those you find!

Finding Mr. Combs and his music was one of the most magical things about our month in Santa Fe. Come along and listen to the video below, and if you want to buy his CD:  www.buskerjoe.com

14 comments on “Busker Joe & his wide river
  1. I think it’s so neat that you took the time to find him again and talk to him. Such an interesting person!

  2. Interesting? I should say so! And quite articulate. Love the music, too.

  3. Jenn says:

    What a fascinating individual! I’m so glad you included the recording of the song – it is very pretty. It’s amazing that he taught his friend on the spot to play it!

  4. You and Busker just made my day. Thank you.

  5. WendysHat says:

    What a fabulous story! He sounds like such an interesting guy. Your typical Saturday down there sounds pretty fun too! Fun!

  6. Busker Joe is my kind of guy. Bring a vintage hippie myself, his ethos strikes me as sane and sensible.

  7. Mary says:

    I loved reading this story and I love the song!

  8. Carolann says:

    I would have stopped for a listen if I saw his playing. What a interesting talent!

  9. Love, love, love this! I’ve heard most classic folk tunes. But I’m adding this one to the “classic” list. And, yes I concur, I would say this is folk with tinges of bluegrass. His phrase, “We’re all here on assignment” is perfect.

  10. Estelle says:

    What a fascinating history for a fascinating musician.

  11. Kimberly says:

    What a treat to spend a month in Santa Fe and to meet such an interesting character. That’s one of the many wonders of travel, the people you meet along the way.
    Kimberly XO

  12. What a great story. He sounds like a fascinating man and the song is great. I love Levon Helm, too.

  13. I don’t know when I’ve heard a song that touched me as much as this one did. It brought tears to my eyes. I went to the website to try and buy the CD, but it wouldn’t work. I want this!

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