Banjo Collector's Gathering, Knoxville, TN, USA...Nov 14-17 2013.

Just got back from the Knoxville Gathering. Whew!

This is the second gathering I've attended, last one was in Nashville a few years ago. They bounce around a bit, most are up in the Northeastern part of the country and simply too far for me to drive. Knoxville, though, is only 3.5hrs away and over easy (and fast) interstates.

So, I gathered up just two banjos (Stewart Cello and Hartel Ashborn) and nipped up there for the weekend.

The venue was the Knoxville Downtown Hilton, a ~20-story affair with a decent view from nearly every room. My view was of the parking garage...

The rooms set aside for the conference were of decent size and allowed tables to run the circumference on 3 sides allowing row-seating for the lectures in the middle. A smaller annex was attached which added a good bit more display area.

All of the usual collector-culprits were in attendance: Jim Bollman and Peter Szego (who run the show), Eli and Madeline Kaufman, Bob Winans, Stan Werbin, Bob Smakula, Andy Fitzgibbons, Bill Talley (and many more I cannot recall). Builders like Pete Ross, Tommy George & Christian Stanfield and players like Bob Carlin and Adam Hurt  were there as well and then academics like Cece Conway, Tony Thomas and the inimitable Greg Adams to tie it all together.

The depth and breadth of arcane banjo knowledge in the room at times was causing me some hypoxia issues. I often had to stop and think, "Ok Marc, breathe in - breathe out." I can only touch a few of these experiences: Talking to Eli K. is sort of like drinking from a firehose. His ability to recall the tiniest factoid on just about any subject is completely amazing. I did ask him about Tommy Glynn...

Lots and lots of banjos, of course...ranging from 1860's to modern. Almost all open-backs. There was one Cammeyer Vibrante, a nice rosewood one...and OMG heavy, probably would have made a great stern anchor for the Titanic. It had the usual veneer problems on the back but was in otherwise nice shape. #193 or something like that. Eli, of course, has all the production data for the Vibrantes.

Probably my favorite banjo of the whole show was one of Bill Talley's, an Electric, I think. Bill takes old worn-out and/or broken banjos and restores them...this one had Bill's neck on it with some hansome heel carving and beautiful red and black marquetry. Not only was it beautifully done, it played like it looked.

Of course, we had a series of lectures every day...all day. Eli had a great lecture on the Boston Ideals, Tony Thomas talked about trying to find out exactly who Picayune Butler might have been, Christian Stanfield traced the banjo thru cartoon art, Andy Fitzgibbons showed us how metal banjo parts were made thru the years. We got to see the movie, "The Librarian and the Banjo" (which was a neat documentary) and were treated to Pete Szego's overview of the earliest Martin Guitars (based on his just-released new book on the subject). Greg Adams gave us a teaser on his and Bob Winan's work on the upcoming Boucher exhibit. It sounds like it will be a great reason to head to Baltimore next year.

And then...we played music. Greg Adams has stuffed his head with 25+ classic banjo tunes and plays them all delightfully (and fast!). We sat down to play a bit, I on the CB while he played firsts...and then Christian Stanfield plopped down with an L-3 Gibson guitar (later and on stage, with a banjo guitar)...and then Bob Winans jumped in on 2nd banjo...and then Eli Kaufman on 2nd obbligato. We were a Banjo Orchestra!

We played thru a bunch of tunes but eventually settled in on two: "St. Louis Tickle" and "Galop de Concert" (which Greg learned after listening to Mr. Moss' excellent video). Our little pickup orchestra did well enough that it was decided that it should appear on the Saturday evening concert program.

Saturday evening Greg opened the program solo, playing early stroke-style stuff and the Akonting (and singing in Senegalese). Then he called us up and we played our great acclaim. 

I must confess, I was worried. I had no music to read from and was playing as much by ear as by watching Christian's guitar chords. Nobody complained and no rotting vegetables were thrown, must have been a success! It certainly was a lot of fun...but the Cello-Banjo groupies are not yet mobbing me on the street. ;-)

The second half of the program featured Bob Carlin and Adam Hurt, two of my most favorite Old Time players. If you've never heard Adam Hurt play the banjo...well, go do it now. Clips on

That's it, there was lots more. More people, new friends and old. More banjos. More stuff. The next one will be in New York City, probably in October of next year. I wish I could go!


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Marc mentioned that Greg Adams and he had learned this piece after seeing Mike Moss's video earlier in the year.

Marc has kindly produced and sent to me TABLATURE for all parts of the score, and even the Cello Banjo in both TAB and notation.  I have added these to the MUSIC LIBRARY so there is NO excuse at all not to try out this great tune.


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