With every passing day, musician Benares Angeley adds gigs to her growing calendar and spends more time on the road singing and playing old-time bluegrass. This may seem a predictable path for a girl born in a cabin built by her parents in rural Virginia, but Benares could only claim it with hard work and a willingness to let go of the alluring stability of both academia and the nine-to-five world. From a home base of Asheville, N.C., she and her husband (fellow musician Jeff Angeley) travel far and wide to share their musical passion.
Tell us what makes you a great Escape Artist.
I just quit my job to take another job with less hours and more money …hence more hours to write and play music.
I think one of the hardest things about Escaping is realizing that you are completely replaceable. Wherever you work, from the biggest mega-corporation to the tiniest do-gooder non-profit, you are not necessary. They can find someone else to do your job and do it well, so don’t think that you can’t leave because they’d never get on without you.
The last time we talked, you were working in the arts in New Bedford, Massachusetts. How did you come to start playing music?
I’d moved to New Bedford to pursue my MFA in textiles at UMass-Dartmouth, which was a grueling, intensely wonderful process. While in school, I worked at a local fisherman’s bar, where I met Jeff. I started singing with his band, then I picked up the banjo. The band fell apart, but Jeff and I stayed together and started writing more of our own music. By this time I had also started playing guitar, and a little accordion, too. I think it was one of those things where I was in the right place at the right time, but probably didn’t even realize it until much later. A few songs in a bar late at night turned into something like a career, or at least a great passion. And I got my wonderful husband out of the deal, too!
I kind of fell into music and performing. It wasn’t what I set out to do, but it became this really great outlet while I was in grad school. For my art degree, I did a lot of audience interactive and performance work, and a lot of pieces with words and text. Music combines all these things for me—I get to perform, interact in real time with an audience, create something fleeting and beautiful, and also play with words.
What kinds of other jobs have you held in the past to support your venture?
I worked in a fisherman’s bar in New Bedford, and the experience of frying oysters certainly led me to want to do something else with my life! I’ve had so many jobs in the past, and I think I’m always happiest when I’m busily moving from one spot to the next. This kind of life requires more work for less money, but immensely more happiness for me. I’ve served as Program Manager for the Teaching Artist Initiative at Penland School of Crafts, taught youth art classes at the Asheville Art Museum, taught in public schools, sewed, and babysat. It’s crazy and requires a really good calendar, but I love it.
What kinds of things have threatened to hold you back along the way? How have you overcome those obstacles?
Mostly my own perceptions of what I should be doing have held me back. I go through periods of time where I lay awake in bed at night thinking of the health insurance I don’t have, and the house I don’t have, and the savings account I don’t have…the list could go on and on.
I think it’s very easy to sabotage yourself when you’re trying to be an Escape Artist because you are escaping from what’s expected and what’s supposedly normal. But as long as I am actively doing, I don’t worry so much.
What’s some of the better advice you’ve received as you’ve worked your way toward this place in your life? Any advice of your own to share with others who are transitioning to a more creative career or lifestyle?
Some of the best advice I ever got was regarding visual art I was making, but I think it applies to everything: you get to choose your own audience. So if your mom is really critical of everything you do, she doesn’t get to be in your audience. Think that Virgina Woolf would love your work? Add her to the crowd that’s watching what you do. Create a loving, supportive mental audience for your work and life, and kick out anyone who isn’t helping you on your path.
And finally … where can we hear your music!?