With an incredibly soulful voice that belies his mere 25 years, country/folk/soul musician Joshua Panda is straight-up awesome. For his Great Busking Tour, Panda and his band perform two shows in Santa Fe, and arrive a few days early for a little self-promotion and busking.
At his best, Panda is like a dude version of Patsy Cline and, at his worst, he’s still pretty damn good. On his self-titled album (to be released this fall), Panda channels heroes of soul, such as Sam Cooke or Otis Redding for vocals, Kris Kristofferson-izes the music, then adds a dash of zydeco and rock. The songs touch on the most classic of country topics—love gone awry, spirituality, missing home—topics equally suited to the stage or the streets.
Should you be downtown near the show dates, keep an eye out for Panda’s stripped-down street performances. The official concerts will be pretty cool, too.
Santa Fe is rife with buskers (word up to that awful guy who plays on Montezuma Avenue by Corazón and shouts obscenities at passersby), most of them pretty decent, so Panda ought to fit right in. I spoke with Panda about his style, his performances and whether or not his last name is for real.
SFR: Is Panda really your last name?
Not at all. It’s a nickname that evolved over time, so I just ran with it. My last name is Pender, and that drunkenly turned into Panda.
Heads-up: You might want to stop by City Hall for a busking license.
Yikes. So we’ve heard. That’s the first thing we’re going to do when we get there. Our home-base, Burlington, Vt., has that, and you actually have to audition to get the license. Burlington is actually a busking hub, so I’m pretty used to that.
Did you start with busking?
Actually, no. I’ve been playing live music for about 10 years, but only busking for about three or four. We also stream our street and concert performances to joshuapanda.com. It’s like virtual busking and, as far as I know, nobody else does that. You can even donate right there on the website, so it’s like you’re really there!
Where did the idea to busk pre-show come from?
Most of the time, it’s easiest for me to get the word out with grassroots. If you get out there and make some noise, people are eventually going to hear about you. I try to ask people what would make someone go see a band they had never heard before, and almost across the board they say it’s word of mouth.
Do a lot of people who see you on the street attend your shows?
In every town we play, we get about five or six people that saw us on the street. I think the minimum is one person. People want their music to be real, and they don’t want to be bombarded with ads so, when they see that we’re organic and real and tangible, they get a better sense of what we do, and feel better about it than some flashy band that’s got a huge ad budget.
Folk music has gone through a pretty trendy resurgence, so why should we care about you?
I grew up in North Carolina, and we didn’t really have pop. I didn’t even hear Michael Jackson until I was a teenager. Folk is really all I know, and it just sounds so pure. I think people get tired of bullshit and go back to music with substance or music with roots and a past. They want to hear music with lyrics that tell a story, and that is exactly what we do.
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