Abby the Spoon Lady, Americana percussionist

Abby Roach, known as Abby the Spoon Lady, is an American roots musician from Kansas, specializing in playing the spoons. It’s a skill she picked up in her late twenties while hopping freight trains around the United States and staying in homeless encampments. (A Peruvian man named Gil taught her.) Since then she has made a living performing primarily on the streets, creating a variety of sounds and rhythms with the simple castanet-like instrument. Her repertoire consists of early jazz, gospel, ragtime, country blues, jug band, Western swing, and Appalachian folk.

Abby grew up in Wichita but left her hometown at age twenty-five to start a new life. “Homeless by choice,” she used Nashville as a hub for a while until the police started discouraging busking in 2012. She spent 2013 to 2019 in Asheville, North Carolina, where she struck up a musical partnership with singer-guitarist Chris Rodrigues. The two are featured in Erin Derham’s Buskin’ Blues (2015) (watch for free!), an hour-long documentary about the street performance culture in Asheville, and they recorded an album together, Working on Wall Street (2017), titled after the picturesque side street where they regularly performed.

In Asheville Abby hosted a weekly radio broadcast at WPVM 103.7 FM and became president of the Asheville Buskers Collective, advocating for the interests of the busking community to the city council and local businesses. 

“The real reason that street performance is important, and the reason it should be preserved, is because it turns our sidewalks into our front porch,” Abby says. “Since the invention of the air conditioner, we have all gone inside. Nobody’s sharing anything anymore. Nothing’s raw anymore. And when you do experience any kind of culture, it’s through a lens of some sort—on a screen. What street performance provides is a live avenue where people can experience, witness, and even sometimes partake in these cultures, and have it put in front of them.”

In 2019 Abby moved back to Kansas, purchasing a little green bus that she converted into a mobile home and, more recently, a house in Winfield, which she is fixing up. She releases YouTube videos through what she calls Spooniversal Studios, sharing music and stories, and travels the US, performing outside in downtown areas, at festivals, and at small music venues. Besides Rodrigues, she has also performed with the Tater Boys (Tub Martin and Dusty Whytis), the Steel City Jug Slammers, Matt Kinman, Les Blackwell, and others. Though the spoons are her primary instrument, she also plays the mountain dulcimer and the musical saw.

Abby doesn’t romanticize the nomadic life; she says it’s dangerous (especially for women), dirty, tiring, and often lonely. People love to ask her about her train-hopping days, and while she does have tales to regale, she emphatically warns folks not to ride freight trains—you don’t need to do that to be free, she says.

Below are filmed performances of some of the traditional gospel songs Abby has done over the past five years, starting with “Angels in Heaven” (aka “I Know I Been Changed”), which went viral in 2017 and currently has over 59 million views! Her beagle, Willie, often appears in the videos.

“John the Revelator,” which intersperses a refrain about the apostle John writing the Apocalypse with verses about Adam hiding from God in Eden, Jesus in Gethsemane the night of his arrest, and Jesus on Easter morning commissioning Mary Magdalene to preach the Resurrection:

“Jesus on the Mainline,” about how Jesus is always available to talk to:

“Don’t Let the Devil Ride,” not giving sin a foothold:

“Soldier in the Army of the Lord”:

“Gospel Plow,” a call to perseverance:

“Laid My Burden Down”:

“Ain’t No Grave” (a version of this song appears on Abby’s 2020 album with the Tater Boys, In the Dirt and Thriving):

“He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”:

“I Feel the Lord Stretching Out in Me” (“I feel the Lord stretching out in me. I cleaned up my house, and I kicked the devil out. I feel the Lord stretching out in me!”):

You can support Abby the Spoon Lady through PayPal or Venmo (@SPOONIVERSALSTUDIOS), or by purchasing merchandise. View her travel schedule here, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Lent, Day 21 (Feast of the Annunciation)

LOOK: The Annunciation by Steven Homestead

Homestead, Steven_The Annunciation
Steven Homestead (American, 1982–), The Annunciation, 2020. Digital collage.

Artist, composer, writer, curator, and speaker Steven Homestead of Orange County, California, created this collage by overlaying and manipulating three photographs from Unsplash. It depicts the moment when the angel Gabriel came to Mary of Nazareth to tell her that she had been chosen to bear God’s Son. Though Mary was initially taken aback by this announcement, she ultimately gave her full assent, leaning into the future God had for her. Through her fiat, her yes, God worked the salvation of the world.

Gabriel and Mary are represented here by two Brazilian models whose raised arms—his right, her left—form near symmetrical arcs. It’s as if he’s calling and she’s responding. She’s bending to God’s will, but not with the sort of demure posture so often assigned to her in art history; instead, her stance is one of freedom and power and becoming.

The curve of Gabriel’s hand matches the curve of the stained glass leading, which encircles his head and frames a representation of the Holy Spirit as dove, flying forth from a sunburst.

The setting is outdoors in a wooded area. Mary is dressed in white, like a bride. As she surrenders to the Divine, she becomes filled with light, the sun’s rays converging on her womb. A mystical veil falls around the two figures, suggesting sanctity and mystery. Her body has become the temple of the Lord.

March 25—exactly nine months before Christmas—is when the church celebrates the miraculous conception of Christ in Mary’s womb, the first stage of the Incarnation. It’s an event that fills me with awe and wonder—as it has thousands of artists over the centuries. I’m building a Pinterest board of Annunciation art that I find compelling, which you may be interested to browse: https://www.pinterest.com/art_and_theology/annunciation/. Homestead’s piece is my latest addition.

LISTEN: “Lord, Prepare Me to Be a Sanctuary” by Randy Lynn Scruggs and John W. Thompson, 1982 | Arranged and performed by the West Angeles COGIC Mass Choir and Congregation on No Limit, 2007

Lord, prepare me
To be a sanctuary
Pure and holy
Tried and true
And with thanksgiving
I’ll be a living
Sanctuary
For you

And whatever you tell me, my answer will be yes
Yes (yes)
Yes (yes to your will, Lord)
Yes (yes to your way)
Yes (Lord, I’ll go where you want me to go)
Yes (yes)
Yes, yes (yes)
Yes (whatever you tell me to do, Lord)
Yes
Yes (my will is your will for me, Lord)
Yes (come on, let’s take it higher, say yeah)

Lord, prepare me
To be a sanctuary
Pure and holy
Tried and true
And with thanksgiving
I’ll be a living
Sanctuary
For you

Hallelujah, hey!
Now I want the Lord to mold me
I want him to make me, I want him to shape me
I want him to direct me, I want him to purge me
I want him to wash me
Whatever he wants me to be
I’ll be just that, so I tell him:

Lord, mold me (mold me)
What you want me to be (what you want me to be)
Oh mold me (mold me)
What you want me to be (what you want me to be)
Oh and say mold me (mold me)
Say what you want me to be (what you want me to be)
Oh mold me (yes, what you want me to be) (mold me)
What you want me to be (what you want me to be)

Mold and we’ll say yes (yes)
Yes to your will say (yes to your will)
Say yeah, yeah (yeah)
Yes to your way, Lord (yes to your way)
Say yes everyday (yes everyday)
Yes to your way (yes to your way)
Say yes, I’ll obey (yes, I’ll obey)
Say yes to your way (yes to your way)

Lord, mold me
What you want me to be
Say what you want me to do
Where you want me to go
Say where you want me to go
When you want me to go
Say how you want me to go
What you want me to do

And you will say yeah (yeah)
Say yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah (yeah)
Say yes to your way (yes to your way)
Ooh ooh ooh yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah (yeah)
Say yes to your will (yes to your will)
Say, say yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah (yeah)
Say:

Lord, prepare me
To be a sanctuary
Pure and holy
Tried and true
And with thanksgiving
I’ll be a living
Sanctuary
For you

Hallelujah
Lord, I say yes
Lord, I say yes
Lord, I say yes
To your will and to your way
Not my time, but yours

If there’s one word I most associate with the Annunciation, it’s “yes.”

This song doesn’t directly reference the Annunciation, but it does capture the attitude of surrender to God that Mary modeled for us. “Lord, I say yes to your will and to your way.” We can assume that throughout her girlhood she cultivated a devotion that made her open and receptive to God’s call when it came. She was ready to offer herself as God’s sanctuary, a house for his incarnate presence. She literally became pregnant with God!

In a spiritual sense, we too are called to bear Christ within us (Rom. 8:10; 2 Cor. 4:6–7; 13:5; Gal. 1:15–16; 2:20). To be temples of his Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19–20). And to answer yes when God invites us into some new adventure.

Christmas, Day 2

LOOK: Jesus, Light of the World by Wayne Forte

Forte, Wayne_Jesus, Light of the World
Wayne Forte (Filipino American, 1950–), Jesus, Light of the World, 2009. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 30 × 24 in.

LISTEN: “Jesus, Light of the World” | Words by Charles Wesley (stanzas), 1739, and George D. Elderkin (refrain), 1890 | Music by George D. Elderkin, 1890 | Performed by Isaac Cates and Ordained on Carol of the Bells, 2014 (soloists: Margaret Rainey and Kami Woodard)

Hark! the herald angels sing.
Jesus, the light of the world.
Glory to the newborn King,
Jesus, the light of the world.

We’ll walk in the light, beautiful light.
Come where the dewdrops of mercy shine bright.
Oh, shine all around us by day and by night.
Jesus, the light of the world.

Joyful, all you nations, rise.
Jesus, the light of the world.
Join the triumph of the skies.
Jesus, the light of the world.

Christ, by highest heav’n adored.
Jesus, the light of the world.
Christ, the everlasting Lord,
Jesus, the light of the world.

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace.
Jesus, the light of the world.
Hail the Sun of righteousness!
Jesus, the light of the world.

In 1890 Chicago publisher George D. Elderkin adapted Charles Wesley’s beloved Christmas hymn text “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing,” using the first two lines of Wesley’s stanzas 1, 2, 3, and 5 and adding a refrain that’s based on a Fanny Crosby text from 1880. For the music, he wrote a gospel waltz. Although Elderkin was not African American, this hymn has become especially well loved in Black churches. Read a more detailed history of the hymn’s composition at the UMC Discipleship website.  

Isaac Cates’s 2014 arrangement and recording is my favorite. Cates is a gospel vocalist, arranger, and pianist who performs with his choir, Ordained.