Nashville Banjo Collector's Gathering...11/4 thru 11/6

Well...

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!

===Marc

Views: 113

Comment by Carl Anderton on November 8, 2010 at 4:38
I'll guarantee you, a highlight of the event for some of the old-guard of the Collectors guild was going through the Marc Smith Collection of banjo music. Long-time collectors were amazed at what Marc had. And we only saw a part of it...

It was a treat to meet Eli Kaufman. What a prince. A walking encyclopedia of banjo knowledge, and yet down-to-earth and friendly and caring towards everyone. He took an immediate shine to Joel Hooks. I think he appreciated Joel's fresh perspective and irreverence towards some to the accepted wisdom of the "Classic" genre.

Me, I was out of my league. A little pickin' here and there is about all I know. But it was a great experience. A trifle expensive, but I'm glad I went.
Comment by J. Adam Latham on November 8, 2010 at 17:20
Sounds like another great trip for y'all ... I'm, as always, jealous! :)
Comment by Christian Stanfield on November 8, 2010 at 17:48
If Carl was out of his league than I was waaaay out of my league - as a picker, builder, banjophile, you name it. But I am glad I attended this gathering. I got lots of building tips and advice, as well a complete examination of a couple of my banjos by Kevin Enoch. That alone was worth the price of admission. And getting to play on Uncle Dave Macon's banjo in George Gruhn's private collection... priceless.
Comment by Trapdoor2 on November 8, 2010 at 18:01
Yeah, tell us about George's collection. I didn't get to go (although I remember when it was on display in his shiop...many moons ago).
Comment by Trapdoor2 on November 10, 2010 at 14:55
Wholly crap, speaking of "banjo music"...a lot of "British Banjo Music ca 1905" just sold on ebay for $1,100...that's for only 193 pieces. I bid on it...but nowhere near that level! Anybody know who bought it?
Comment by Christian Stanfield on November 10, 2010 at 15:02
No idea about the Ebay sale, but I can say that George Gruhn's personal collection was, um... different than I would have otherwise suspected. As he told us at the Gathering, there were in fact more bnajos in his private collection than any other instrument. I did not see a single Martin guitar in the private collection, which was a surprise. I saw a bunch of Tacoma instruments, both mandolin and guitar, which also was suprising. Carl and Joel spent a lot more time in the room than I did, so they can better speak to the different banjos they found. There were a lot of strange/unusual banjos, etc., that's what I most remember. Clarke also spent a bit of time in the room and could probably comment on what he found interesting.
Comment by Clarke Buehling on November 10, 2010 at 17:20
I didn't spend much time in the collection, but there were two Van Eps banjos and a Gibson
fretless (try to imagine that!).

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