A Site Dedicated to all enthusiasts of Classic Style Banjo
I've not been participating much recently for a variety of reasons...mostly because of the firewall on the computer at work no longer allows access to anything "ning". Well, most of the time. Access isn't really denied, just made so miserable that one cannot bear to jump thru all the hoops. Of course, they actually want me to work too...intolerable, really.
Anyway, once again I have been lucky enough to attend the annual "Banjo Gathering" (formerly "Banjo Collector's Conference") again. This one has been a topper. More people, more banjos, more fun!
This one was held in Bristol, Virginia, home to the site of the "Birthplace of Country Music Museum" (first "official" country music recordings were made in Bristol back in 1927). The museum is quite good and they treated us like long lost relatives...open arms and open hearts. Imagine, normal people actually looking forward to an invasion of banjo people. Madness!
I cannot possibly get thru a total reconstruction of the whole affair but the standard drill is to meet, show off your banjos, talk until you cannot remain standing and then find a chair and talk until your vocal cords are raw. Many friends there. Lots of amazing banjos. This is primarily about 5-string banjos but there are a few tenors, ukes and mando-whatzits too.
Each day features a series of lectures (limited to 45min) covering everything from how the banjo evolved thru the US Square Dance Revival of the 1950's to a talk by Uncle Dave Macon's grandson (promoting his new book on Uncle Dave) to tracing the banjo's roots in Surinam to (and my favorite) Early SS Stewart banjos.
I was asked to bring a couple of Stewarts to help fill the bill of displaying a bunch of Stewarts...but I had no idea there would end up being so many!
Friday night was the "big concert" with everything from Stroke Style to folk "clawhammer" to...wait for it..."Classic Banjo". Amazingly, Aaron Jonah Lewis appeared on stage with a B&D Senorita and trotted out a fine showing of Lawes' "Progressions" as well as an excellent rendering of "Ragtime Oriole". Before that, I'd never heard of this guy. Great player! I think he said he's peeked in here a time or two.
Yesterday, I walked into the big room of banjos and heard more classic playing in the background...and there is a young man in the back corner with a very fancy (and very expensive) Vega...playing beautifully. Ossman, Van Eps, Morley, Lawes, Grimshaw, etc. I suggested he give my CE Special a tryout and I think he liked it a lot. Turns out that he lives just an hour or so away from me. I hope he turns up here. I told him we could stuff him with more sheet music than he could stand...
I also spoke with Michael Nix, who is an amazing player of the 7-string banjo...playing a custom one built by Mike Ramsey. Although I believe he is mostly a "classical" player, he has recorded some of the tunes from the Ellis 7-string tutor and is actively promoting the 7-string. I'll be sending him some copies of the classical stuff in my collection.
I also met a collector (and his wife) from Leeds, UK. Knows David Wade, etc. I can't for the life of me remember his name but he has a huge banjo collection. They were very nice folks. There was another young man from the UK, one from Belgium (also a classic player) and one from Germany (who wanted to buy my CE Special...No, Not For sale!).
We had a panel discussion about Bob Winan's new book "Banjo Roots and Branches" and I bought a second copy at the suggestion of Tony Thomas, to donate to my local library.
Stewarts. Did I mention there were Stewarts?
Holy mackerel. Joe Hornung and Norm Peterson brought in their combined collections of rare, early and oddity Stewarts. I saw stuff (handled and played) I've only seen in pictures and stuff I never knew existed. I played Stewart S/N 1122 (we think he started @ 1000. He stated in the Journal that he started serialization in March of 1883) and I was able to handle at least a half-dozen non-serialized ones (predating 1883). The early Stewarts are only consistent in their lack of consistency. Just sitting with these early banjos made me feel like I was looking into his brain, how he was solving problems, working out the bugs, trying minor and major changes.
Overall, I was once again made aware of the fact that Stewart would make you anything you wanted, just bring money. For every Stewart rule, there was an exception on the table. Odd stampings, funny peghead changes, other maker's hardware, weird rim sizes.
Another gentleman's lecture was about the Buckbee banjo factory, specifically regarding JH Buckbee and the family. In his presentation, he showed a slide of a banjo patented by Buckbee that was possibly the banjo used for the very first banjo recording made by Edison. When I saw the patent, I realized that I have a box in my workshop with one of those banjos in it...quite possibly the only extant one (I mean, I'm at a conference where all the knowledge lays...nobody had ever heard of this thing...and I'm thinking, "Wait, I've got one out in the shed!"). Now I gotta find it and get it back into playing order.
So, I had a great time. The venue was excellent and the people moreso. Many thanks to all the folks who run this show. I'll post some pictures when I get a chance to get them downloaded.
Good to see that you are back on here Marc. That sounds a really great event. I would love to get there sometime. I believe you met my friends Keith and Mavis from Leeds..nice people. I got my favourite maple Weaver banjo from Keith a few years ago and still don't think it will ever be replaced! I have been in contact with Aaron Jonah Lewis too and, yes, what a player he is! MrsTRNM is more impressed by his beard though ;-)
Thanks for all that interesting information.
Any photos of the event?
Dang, I would have loved to see Joe's SSS collection. I wished I could have gone. It sounds like it was a good one.
I think a "banjo orchestra" is a great idea. People can hear all that "classical music" that was played.
LOL. Joel, your name was taken in vain quite a few times. You are missed.
Yah, the Stewart display was amazing. Name a model...it was there. Two Giraffe Banjoretts (one fretless!), Pony Concert, Banjeaurines, Banjo-banjeaurines, several presentation grades (even a Lady Stewart presentation), guitar-banjo, two Cellos (one mine). Completely crazy. The only cataloged banjos we didn't have was the "Special Banjo" for playing in D and a Special Thoroughbred (Thoroughbred, yes, no Specials). Several "firsts" for me. I've never seen a perch-pole Stewart...pic or in person. Now I've seen several!
Classical: Aaron Lewis played Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C-sharp minor...rather than trotting out "Russian Rag". He just wanted to be different, I think. Well done too. I must say that 99% of people there said "Classic"...and understood the difference. The figure of Eli K. looms large in everyone's memory...also very much missed.
There was less jamming at this conference than previously. The lecture schedule was packed and the museum closed at 11pm. If there was jamming, it was back at the hotel.
I watched the concert and Aaron did a fantastic job. He is a great ambassador for Classic banjo. I feel he missed an opportunity when he played "Progressions." Since it was published and composed very late (like the 1950s or 60s) he could have mentioned that the classic banjo did not just vanish.
That said, I would not have been able to make my hands work on that stage let alone be able to give an introduction that was not gibberish.
His playing was superb. I thought his intro to Prelude in C-sharp made it clear that it was not just "classical" but had become part of "popular music." The connection to his fiddle playing and Russian Rag was nice. Just an excellent job.
So that's why Keith missed his lesson on Wednesday night!!
Keith and Mavis...yes! Very nice folks, I could even mostly understand them. I'm sure I gave them an earful of "y'all". ;-)
Mr. Lewis' picture certainly ought to be featured in the dictionary under "hirsute".
We had a discussion about what folks would like next year and there were several calls for "Banjo Orchestra", sheet music sent out prior, etc. I just hope they hold the next one south of the Mason-Dixon line (which means, close enough for me to attend).
I do have a pile of photos but I have to download them from my phone, resize, etc. I'll try to get that done in the next couple of days.
Some photos are up on the museum's facebook page https://www.facebook.com/birthplaceofcountrymusicmuseum?fref=ts as well as a video of the Friday evening concert here: https://bit.ly/2qmf6Uf
Sorry, my connection here will not let me use any of the "insert link" things. :-(