A Site Dedicated to all enthusiasts of Classic Style Banjo
I had a ball at the gathering. Got to visit with old friends meet new friends and see (and pick) a helluva lot of great banjos, teach, learn, yak (lots of that!) and generally eat-breathe-sleep collector banjo stuff for two days.
So much fun to hang out with Joel and Carl. Those guys went non-stop the entire time...every time I walked past their room, there was banjo music ringing thru the door. I'm amazed that hotel security didn't put 'em both in chains. :-)
I had brought a number of banjos to display but really didn't expect them to get much attention as they are almost all "inexpensive" (read: cheap) grade banjos. I also brought two U-Haul boxes full of fingerstyle sheet music, which I figured would be of the most interest. I didn't keep strict watch but it seemed that every time I turned around, someone was playing either my Hartel Ashborn (a repro, ie, non-collectible) or my Stewart Orchestra #3 (which, although a collector's item, it is not a wart on some of the great banjos that were there). Even better, while I was looking at some other banjos, I heard the strains of "Sweet Sue, Just You"...and turned around to find John (Beezaboy) playing my Paramount Style A (one of the few Tenor banjos in attendance). Just that brief moment meant a lot to me...the tenors were a last-second addition to the carload and I expected them to be totally ignored.
One of the highlights was getting to watch Bela Fleck's movie, "Throw Down Your Heart" with Bela himself introducing it and then fielding questions afterwards. Another was Jim Bollman's review/presentation of Cole Banjos (which left me wanting to acquire one). Jamming with Clarke Buehling or having Eli Kaufman play thru a half-dozen Morley tunes for me...also high on the list.
On the other hand, the one man play, "The Banjo Lesson" by Paul Sedgewick fell pretty flat. Tough audience, for sure. Imagine trying to do a one-act "Banjo History" play in front of of a group of serious banjo historians. Paul used historical characters but sadly gave them anachronistic music to demonstrate and fictionalized much of their stories. For instance, his Horace Weston character played a snippet of Morley's "Zarana" (which was written about 30 yrs after Weston's death). Thank god Joel wasn't there for that! =:-O To give Paul credit, he did play "Horace Westons Minor Jig" too. Ah well!
I also felt that this gathering was very heavily structured around "exploring African roots". While this is a very important aspect of the banjo's history (and one that is evolving rapidly) far too much of the agenda was devoted to it for me. I do want to learn about it...but much of it is like sitting thru Aunt Minnie's slideshow.
The jamming was, of course, a heckuva lot of fun. Though somehow, for me, this show could have been titled "How many times can you play "Sunflower Dance, Marc?". I played it, I taught it, I played 2nd, I taught it some more, I played it some more. I played 1st for people who wanted to play 2nd and played 2nd for people who wanted to play 1st. Amazing...I loved every minute of it.
And...I got to pick Eli Kaufman's brain. Eli, of course, is the editor of the ABF (American Banjo Fraternity) newsletter and one of the great collectors of "stuff du banjo". In a crowd of this sort, it is sometimes tough to get a minute with Eli as he is 1) GURU and 2) Very Happy to Expound on Anything Banjo...at length. I finally got my "minute" with Eli Friday night at around 10pm. At 2am, I was still standing there...on the edge of information overload, mouth agape, drool wetting my t-shirt... I believe the security guard finally intervened: "Mr Kaufman? Mr. Smith hasn't blinked in the last hour, I think he might collapse and we haven't enough people to pick him up. Please let him go to bed." The information that man has in his head...whew! I laid in bed for another 2 hrs...staring at the ceiling, trying to get my brain to stop whirling. Next time (and I hope there are many "next times" to converse with Eli), I shall make sure I have a chair and a drink!
I guess what I take away from this whole experience is that the collectors group are uniformly nice, friendly people who happen to love old banjos. They are very giving, easy to talk to and chock full of history. I enjoyed myself immensely. I hope I get to go to another gathering!
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