Buskers bring an ambiance to film festival week | ParkRecord.com

Buskers bring an ambiance to film festival week

James Miska and Genevieve Smith, known as the duo Wing & Claw, play for film festival goers on Main Street. (Jake Shane/Park Record)

Buskers bring a spontaneous, musical element to film festival week.

During the past 10 days, these street musicians from far and near have performed in different locations on Main Street and Park City welcomes them with open arms, according to Gabe Jaramillo, community service inspector for Park City.

"I think they add a lot to the festival environment," Jaramillo told The Park Record. "It’s nice to see musicians here and there playing their music."

One of those performers is Wing & Claw, featuring cellist Genevieve Smith, and guitarist/percussionist James Miska.

The Salt Lake City-based acoustic duo formed a little more than five years ago and emerged from the band Bramble, which was a staple of the scene during the past few film festivals.

But the origins of Wing & Claw reach further back to 2009 when Smith played in a band based in Montana.

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"I was working at a taco shop and some guys came in and told us about their band playing at a place in Missoula and I told them that my band was playing the same show," Smith said. "Those guys turned out to be James’s old band called Bramble and we played the show together and it was fun."

A few months later, Smith and Miska ran into each other at a street festival in Portland, Oregon.

"We kept running into each other again and again," she said.

A year and half later, Smith moved to Salt Lake City and started playing contemporary classical music with the Eric Rich Ensemble.

"His pieces have different instrumentation and required different musicians," Smith said. "One day this trumpet player sat down next to me and told me that I looked familiar."

The trumpet player was Miska.

"It was incredible," Smith said. "He asked if I wanted to play music together the next day, and I figured it was meant to be, so I joined the last iteration of Bramble and busked up here at Sundance and did some tours with the band."

Bramble eventually disbanded, but Smith and Miska continued to perform together as Wing & Claw.

"There’s no real story behind the band name," Smith said. "We just threw some names out and this one stuck."

The duo released its debut full-length record on Jan. 16. The 11-track album was recorded in two days at Rosewood Studios by owner Guy Randall.

"There is a pretty good balance between the songs I have written and the ones James wrote," Smith said. "Some of the songs are new and some we’ve been doing since we started playing together. We’re super proud of it."

The album is available at Diabolical Records in Salt Lake and at various Graywhale stores in the Salt Lake Valley.

It can also be purchased by visiting Wingandclaw.bandcamp.com . For more information visit Facebook.com/wingandclawmusic.

Smith began playing cello while an elementary school student living in the Bay Area.

"My mom is a jazz musician and we went to festivals a lot," she said. "I wanted to play the bass, but I went to school in Berkley and Oakland, where there isn’t a lot of funding. The only options they had were a cello, clarinet and violin."

Smith chose the cello and kept saying she was going to switch to bass, but never did.

"I’m happy about that because it ended up being a good choice," she said.

Her main musical influences include the gypsy jazz of guitarist Django Reinhardt and folk-music icons Woody Guthrie and John Hartford.

"Both James and I like a lot of punk as well," Smith said. "I started playing in punk bands with my cello. My mom hated it, but I loved doing that, especially coming from the classical realm where everything is so rigid.

"I do love that about classical music because it’s so beautiful, but I also like free chords and distortion," she said. "I never abandoned the classical thing. I still play in chamber groups, but I try to keep a balance between everything."

Jaramillo is happy the buskers feel comfortable performing in Park City, especially since the municipal code requiring permits to play during film festival week have changed.

"We no longer require musicians to obtain a permit to play," he said. "However, the musicians still need to abide by state codes and other municipal codes. We don’t allow amplified music and they have to abide by our noise-level ordinance."

The only time they need a permit is if they want to sell their music, according to Jaramillo.

"They need to obtain a business license for that," he said. "But they don’t need a permit to ask for donations for playing their music."

Buskers can play any time of the day.

"In fact, the only time we ask them to move into a pocket park or something like that is if they are blocking a sidewalk and the pedestrians have to walk into the street to get by them," Jaramillo said. "Other than that they can play anytime and anywhere. We are glad they are here. They bring a great ambiance."