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70: A Milestone and a Return to Jamming

Last night I reached a new milestone in my attempt to play banjo and fiddle everyday. When I took my banjo out at a jam, I marked 70 days straight of playing it.

I achieved the same feat on the fiddle a couple days ago. My daily habit dates back to May 7 on fiddle and May 10 for banjo.

Most of my banjo playing over the past two months has been in short bursts, a few minutes here and a half hour there. All of that has been solo, either on the couch or on my porch.

Yesterday bucked both trends. My extended playing session was the longest of the year, while also the first time I've played banjo in a group setting in I don't know how long. Probably a couple years at least.

I've been so focused on learning the fiddle that anytime I went to a jam, my banjo stayed home. It was a measure to prevent myself from taking the easy road and playing what was more familiar.

For whatever reason, I decided to bring the five-string along last night. I'm glad I did. It was a small group, …
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Review: Charles A. Asbury, 4 Banjo Songs

Earlier this year, Archeophone Records released what may be the earliest known banjo recordings in existence. The archival specialty music label restored four songs by minstrel-era musician Charles A. Asbury, who was originally recorded in the 1890s on wax cylinders. The result is a 45-rpm, 7-inch vinyl record, titled 4 Banjo Songs, 1891-1897.

The songs presented are "Haul the Woodpile Down," "Never Done Anything Since," "New Coon in Town" and "Keep in de Middle ob de Road." Judging by those last two track titles, it may already be apparent that there are some racially offensive lyrics on this album. These were typical of blackface minstrelsy, which began in about the 1830s and rose to international fame.

Asbury is an interesting case, as his race is somewhat disputed. The Archeophone release highlights this mystery in the 16-page color booklet included with the album. The packaging is especially handsome, worthy of the historical significance of …

Things to Try: Bangin' Banjo Beer

Banjos and beer are a fine pairing. However, it has come to my attention that there's a whole company dedicated to the idea of beer and banjos in the form of Bangin' Banjo Brewing Co., based in Pompano Beach, Florida.

I stumbled upon the brewery as I was at a loss for what to write today. The words "banjo" and "beer" collided in my mind and I typed into the Google search bar. Lo and behold, the first result was Bangin' Banjo, named in honor of the brewers' friend, Kevin Seltzer, a banjo player from the Gainesville area.

The foundation for the company began in 2009 when lifelong friends Adam Feingold and Matthew Giani took their shared love of craft beer and began homebrewing. It was during this time that they coined the name that would eventually become their company name.

Bangin' Banjo Black IPA was a concocted as a birthday present for Seltzer, who had joined Feingold and Giani during their Sunday brewing sessions. A few years later, they foun…

Quarterly Report: Wearing Leather Britches

Last time, my quarterly progress report was late. It only makes sense that this one would be a couple days early. Besides, I couldn't think of anything better to write. So, there's that.

These last three months have been full of highlights. I've continued to make good progress on my Second Year of Ward Jarvis, there have been concerts and reviews, and I started a daily playing streak that continues to this day. Let's explore these more deeply.

General Highlights
My ongoing streak is the accomplishment I'm perhaps most proud of. Yesterday, I hit 50 days in a row of playing fiddle and 47 consecutive days of playing banjo.

It was also rewarding to have two reviews I wrote appear in the spring issue of The Old-Time Herald. I reviewed Richard Jones-Bamman's book, Building New Banjos for an Old-Time World, and the Clarence Ashley album, Live and In Person: Greenwich Village 1963. I'll be writing more reviews for the publication in upcoming issues, so please subscri…

The Ultimate Banjo Joke Compendium

This post is dedicated to my friend Joel Specht. Ever since the Olitsky & Moskovitz concert last month, my son has been obsessed with banjo jokes. During one of the MANY tuning breaks, they asked the crowd to fill the time by telling their favorite quips about the old five-string. Joel told many that night. I've been trying to remember them, along with best ones I've heard over the years for when my son asks again, so I thought I'd make this list.

Question: What's the difference between a banjo and an onion?
Answer: Nobody cries when you cut up a banjo.

Question: How do you know if the floor is level?
Answer: The banjo player is drooling out of both sides of his mouth.

Question: What's the difference between a banjo and trampoline?
Answer: You take your shoes off to jump on a trampoline.

Question: What's the definition of perfect pitch?
Answer: When you can throw a banjo into a dumpster without hitting the sides.

Question: How do you know when a banjo player is at y…

Need Some New Music? Big Sale Going on at the Old-Time Tiki Parlour

Summer weather is here, and there's nothing better than cruising down the road with the windows wide open and the stereo cranking your favorite tunes. Whether you're headed to the beach or on your way to your favorite festival, it's a good time to pick up some hot new music.

Right now, the Old-Time Tiki Parlour is holding a sale on its music and video catalog. I'm not sure how long these deals will last, but it's borderline theft to pay $19.99 for the CD/DVD sets of Dan Gellert, Bruce Molsky, Spencer and Rains, the Stuart Brothers, Paul Brown and others.

From my experience, these releases are well-packaged, immaculately recorded and provide a close-up glimpse of how these masters get the sounds they get. The liner notes provide valuable information on the sources and tunings used by the players. These packages usually go for $25.

Also available is the Spencer and Rains "The Skeleton Keys" book and CD for $29.99. The package includes 17 tunes played by Tric…

Streaking: A Daily Musical Habit

Sometime in 2008, I read Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell. The main premise of the book is it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. This was the year I started playing banjo, and I was struggling to keep up with practice.

My New Year's resolution for 2009 was to rededicate myself to the banjo by learning clawhammer. I also started tracking my playing time to stay accountable and measure my progress toward that 10,000-goal.

When I started playing the fiddle, I began tracking that too.

And before we go any further, yes, I know Gladwell's theory has been debunked, but it still seems like a pretty good goal to get me somewhere in the neighborhood of competent on the banjo and fiddle.

Each year, I set a goal for the amount of hours of playing time I want to log. My spreadsheet helps me stay on track. This year, I'm aiming for 230 hours combined. At the end of January, I hit a snag.

A mix of family and work obligations forced me to miss several days in a row o…