Who's That Shoeless Violin Player?
Meet Isaiah Mitchell, a mainstay street performer on the
corner of 4th and Main Streets in historic Downtown Franklin.
A Busker's Perspective
“I kind of just stumbled upon busking. One day it was a rainy weekday night, I want to say early 2019. I had a performance the next day that I had a little bit of stage fright and the only way you get over it is to just play in front of people. So I was like, Okay, well, where? Where are there people? There are people in downtown Franklin, okay, so I'll go play there. The purpose was not to make money at all. It was just to get over my nerves. So I got down here played my piece a handful of times and had to hide under the Emmaline awning because of the rain. Still, people randomly gave me money and I was like, that's interesting.
I started being consistent at the start of 2020. And then COVID hits, the lockdown hits, and the streets go from very busy to absolutely dead. But I figured okay, you might as well keep on keeping on and see what happens. The fascinating thing was there was something very therapeutic about seeing an element of consistency for the locals here. I got to be a public-facing element of humanity and consistency and beauty and art for the locals here. So they would pull over their cars and hand me some money and it genuinely got me through the lockdown. It was definitely amazing and a really special experience to see not only people appreciate you, but care about me and what I was trying to do.”
Where It All Started
“I grew up about 45 minutes past Cookeville, near Monterey. I was literally a barefoot kid in the middle of the woods. So me being barefoot is because it's more comfortable. It's one of the things I'm slightly more known for here [in Franklin]. But I genuinely grew up on our little property with five acres most of that thing woods. Just playing around and exploring barefoot in the woods. So part of me thinks that way now is a throwback to that.
I started playing when I was like 14 or 15. I'm one of six boys. So when I would get the chance to spend time with my Dad, like we're going driving to run errands, I would play 20 questions with him. I'd always try to stump him because he knew everything. He knew what clouds were, and how rain came about, and he knew why the sky was blue. He knew about metal and electricity and sound and everything. And, and we were on one of those drives when a song came on the radio, and it happens to have a violin in it, and he just made the offhanded remark that “hey, you know, your brother plays the piano. I played the guitar. It'd be kind of cool if you played the violin.” And I thought, Oh, okay. And I didn't really do anything with that.
Then a couple years later, my Dad died of liver and thyroid cancer. And the thought returned my mind about like, Oh, hey, you know, I want to I think I want to play the violin. And so I started playing, I guess from that initial seed that he put in my mind. But honestly not long at all of playing the violin, it became a self-perpetuating love. So I very much love the violin.”
At Home in Franklin
“I busk exclusively in downtown Franklin and exclusively on the corner of Fourth and Main. First of all, because it's the best corner, but also at this point I played for over 1,500 hours at that corner. Even in how you interact with people, there's a weird paradox because half of the reason that you're given money is because people like your music, but the other half of reason that you make money is because people like you. And so the question is, okay, I need to be liked in order to make money. And the paradox with that is the way that you become likable is by genuinely liking other people.
Why don't I play in downtown Nashville or something like that? I just don't like the vibe. I'm not interested in chasing the attention in the loud and brash manner that I would have to in downtown Nashville. When in Franklin, I can be me and wear my heart on my sleeve. I can play violin song. I can chit chat with people. There's something very romantic, authentic, and human about Franklin that lends itself to my niche of busking.”
The Wonder of Life
“I'm very intrigued by doing what it takes to keep the wonder of life. So I'll go on mini adventures. My favorite thing is to just wake up one morning and decide I'm going to visit friends in another state or just explore this downtown area in Gallatin or whatever. And make an adventure out of something that. It seems mundane, but then I'll take that to a larger extent and hop on a plane and go to the other side of the world.
I've been to Greece, Poland, Norway, and France. Aesthetically, Norway is probably the most beautiful. But my favorite out-of-country experience was definitely Poland. It looks exactly like Tennessee in a lot of ways. But the reason is because I got to spend a decent amount of time being a freelance volunteer, randomly helping out with stuff at the border.”