Take a drive. Head for nowhere or New York City, for in neither place can one find a person quite like Abby Roach.
The world knows her as Abby the Spoon Lady.
Musical compatriot Chris Rodrigues by her side, Abby the Spoon Lady headlines "Song of the Mountains" on Saturday at the Lincoln Theatre in Marion, Virginia. Opening acts include bluegrass’ Family Sowell, The Woolseys and Emery Adeline.
“Right now, Chris and I are playing a lot of gospel music and folk music,” said Abby the Spoon Lady about a year ago. “I play a lot of jazz on the spoons. We’ve been doing ‘Don’t Let the Devil Ride,’ ‘Reverend Gary Davis,’ ‘You Got to Move.’ I like old-time music on the spoons. It’s real loopy and got a great rhythm to it.”
To the uninitiated, Abby the Spoon Lady may seem like a candidate for some whacked out and weird “Gong Show.” No teeth. She wears battle-scarred combat boots or goes barefoot, either of which to tap a ring of bells. Yeah, and she plays the spoons.
Looks may deceive, but the ears tell no lies.
“I saw her the first time on Facebook,” Tim White, host of the televised and nationally syndicated “Song of the Mountains,” said. “I’m always drawn to something unique.”
White’s eyes drew him near to Abby. His ears compelled him to hear more and to book her for “Song of the Mountains.” Saturday’s show will be her second time on the program.
“I’m mesmerized by the music she makes,” White said. “Especially the music she makes on the streets of Asheville.”
Abby resides in Asheville. A longtime busker, she’s played the spoons for untold numbers of passersby on street corners and subway stations all across America.
“We’ve put thousands in the case before,” Abby, 37, said. “It’s not always like that. Sometimes we’ll make 30 bucks apiece, Chris and I.”
She’s a walking, talking, spoons-playing dose of freedom. Not so long ago, she hopped freight train boxcars en route to destinations indefinite as a free spirit well in flight.
At some point, a video of Abby playing the spoons turned up on YouTube. With Rodriques, their rendition of “Angels in Heaven” now clocks in with 20 million views. To date, she has nearly 200,000 subscribers to her channel on the online site.
“I thought she was ideal to be on 'Song of the Mountains,'” White said. “They played 'Song of the Mountains' about a year and a half ago. People said, ‘Wow! That’s good, and that’s different.’”
Now in its 15th season, “Song of the Mountains” and White gravitate to and welcome the “good” and “different.”
Originally created to exclusively feature bluegrass, string band and Appalachian acts, the show’s evolution now encompasses a much broader range of styles.
“Now we’ve had country music from Kathy Mattea and Tom T. Hall, folk from Mike Seeger, in addition to bluegrass and Americana,” White said. “I’m also proud of having the not-so-big-names on 'Song of the Mountains' to give them a leg up.”
As with Abby the Spoon Lady, numbers mount in large ways for “Song of the Mountains.” Syndicated through PBS, they were featured on 10 affiliates by the end of their first season. The taped-live television program now turns up nationwide on 190 public television outlets.
“We’re constantly in flux and growing,” White said.
Likewise holds true for Abby the Spoon Lady. Her unpredictable repertoire matches her dazzling skills on the spoons. For instance, she’s as apt to beguile with a harrowing “John the Revelator” as Blackstreet’s rhythm-soaked “No Diggity.”
“She’s the real deal,” White said. “The spoons, she makes ‘em rock. I love her to death. When she walks on stage, people smile.”