Buskers. You can find them almost anywhere in a city large or small. In particular, you can find street musicians standing down on the corner, out there in the street à la Willie & The Poor Boys – hoping you will drop some coin and tap your feet.
Most buskers are local, but sometimes you find one who is a long way from home. And so it was on one sunny day in Fairhope, Alabama I happened upon a woman standing on a street corner, guitar in hand, playing for those passing by. Some would drop the odd dollar or two, some a handful of change.
As I approached, I thought I heard her singing a Gordon Lightfoot song. I decided to ask her a few questions as well as drop some money in her open guitar case. I quickly learned two things. First, she was not familiar with Gordon Lightfoot. And second, she was not from around these parts.
“Where are you from?” I asked. I already guessed the answer. There was a lilting brogue in her voice when she told me she did not know who Gordon Lightfoot was. So it was no surprise when she told me she was from…
“Scotland!” Her voice was proud, the accent thick and charming. She was from Dundee, Scotland as I learned later.
When I asked for her name, she told me she went by “Thistle,” her stage name. Her real name is Kellie Clark.
“I used to perform at weddings, hotels, bars all over Scotland,” she later told me, “and was also part of a kids show called The Happy Apples.” She also released an album called Heart And Soul as Kellie Buchanan.
So what led her to be standing on a street corner in Fairhope some 4,000 miles from Scotland? It was a decision she and her husband, Daniel Michael, made in hopes of living the lifestyle they longed for.
“We decided to come to North America so we could live the lifestyle we’d always dreamed of, traveling around making music on the street, something my husband and I also did back home in Scotland. We also homeschooled the kids in Scotland so it was an easy transition to teach on the road.”
I asked Thistle for permission to keep in touch with her and Daniel as they travelled about the country. She referred to their website, The Hoose, where I could find more information about their travels. The Hoose, in addition to being their website, is also the name of the RV they call home on their travels.
The travels of Kellie, Daniel, and their children – Grace (9), Harry (5) and Angus (3) – brought to mind the travels of Vashti Bunyan, Robert Lewis, and their covered wagon drawn by the ever faithful Bess the horse. The mode of transportation may be different, the country may be different but each party set out with very little on hand and relied on providence to see them through. Thistle admits it has not been easy at times. Yet in the midst of the tough times hope will arise. Such as that time in the city of Valdosta, Georgia.
“Valdosta was a strange one,” she told me. “I was feeling really low and went out to busk to an empty town on a Sunday morning, needing to make anything to move onto the next town. Some people from a local church approached and asked if I would play for their congregation.”
She doesn’t recall the denomination of the church but she remembers the speeches made by the two preachers that day and how they moved her to tears and lifted her spirits. She remembers, too, the kindness of the congregation. It wasn’t until later she found someone had left an envelope for her containing $300.
Right now, Thistle, Daniel and family are located in the Cleveland area. Daniel is working on a project with him as front man for a psychedelic/rock band called Grand Solar. Thistle hopes to redo her Heart and Soul album, as well as provide support to Daniel and Grand Solar.
“I will also be performing covers and busking much more once the weather improves,” Thistle tells me. “Set list wise, I have been adding songs for about twenty five years so I play about 200 songs from memory and I am currently learning about twenty or thirty new covers.”
When the summer is over Thistle and Daniel will decide where to go next. Heading toward South America is a possibility but nothing is set in stone. “Having the freedom to choose where to be and how long (to be there) is one thing I love about this lifestyle,” Thistle says.
As the map of their travels thus far shows, they have covered a great deal of the country.
But for now, “being stationary is giving me the chance to work on some new cover songs, and Gordon Lightfoot is on the list!”