“This is everything I have right here,” says multi-instrumentalist Mike Collins Jr., gesturing to the ground on the Downtown Mall outside of the Paramount Theater. There beside him are a foot drum, a banjo, and a case with scattered dollar bills and a handful of CDs (with brown paper lunch bags in lieu of jewel cases). It makes sense…if you’re a professional busker, you gotta travel light.
“Busking has been my main source of income for over a year,” said 27-year-old Collins nonchalantly. Hailing from South Carolina but based in New Orleans, Collins has been a musician for 13 years—playing different instruments in various bands—and has been a one-man show for the last three. In that time, he’s been all over the U.S. and has traveled to seven countries in Europe including Spain, Germany and Poland. “Berlin was my favorite,” said Collins.
I caught Collins in the early stages of a tour of northward progression. He’s making his way from the Big Easy up to Canada, armed to the teeth with a clawhammer style of strumming, rootsy vocals, and an arsenal of covers and his own songs. I walked up on him playing Doc Watson’s classic “Sitting on top of the World.” His second solo album, Tryin to Stay Ahead, also features a tune by Watson, as well as songs by the Carter family and the lesser-known Bill Cox who, along with Hank Williams is one of his biggest influences.—Adam Turay