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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…
Recent posts

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…

Mike Seeger's Final Smithsonian Folkways Project to be Released in Spring 2019

Mike Seeger’s legacy in the banjo community is already secured. The late founding member of the influential New Lost City Ramblers was a tireless promoter of the five-string. Through his music, instructional videos and field recording projects, the banjo’s place in American folk music is secure. However, there is one project that remains unreleased. For now.

Earlier this month, Tennessee-based banjo player Clifton Hicks pleaded that Banjo Hangout forum members and his YouTube followers write to Smithsonian Folkways to inquire about Mike Seeger’s final project for Smithsonian Folkways. As Hicks believed, the project was to be released as a documentary and music album. 
“When he [Seeger] died, he left behind him an unfinished, masterpiece, maybe?” Hicks says in his YouTube video. “Unfinished piece of work, a film called, well, the working title was Mike Seeger’s Banjo Tales or Banjo Tales with Mike Seeger.”
Hicks says he was recorded as part of the film in 2008, along with George Gibson

Olitsky and Moskovitz Hit the Road

Two banjoists took center stage Friday night at the historic G.A.R. Hall in Peninsula, Ohio. They were angled toward each other, although this was no dueling banjos, but rather DUETING banjos. Mark Olitsky and Cary Moskovitz presented music from their 2017 album, Duets, to a packed crowd, seated at tables inside the 167-year-old building.

Olitsky & Moskovitz paired their seemingly disparate styles with equally contrasting instruments through dazzling interplay of melody, rhythm and harmony. Their playing intertwined and darted off in magical ways throughout the night. Moments when the sound of the two banjos landed upon unison notes, before twisting off again, were especially exciting.

A handful of standouts for the evening were their presentation of “Garfield’s Blackberry Blossom,” “Falls of Richmond” and “Farewell Trion.” The G.A.R. Hall’s pristine acoustics were a perfect complement to the banjo duo. 
Each appeared to be playing two banjos. Olitsky provided the bassier tones, as…

The Ongoing Search for Ohio's Old-Time Fiddle Repertoire

Since the beginning of my journey into old-time music, I have sought to find a connection to my home state. After studying the recorded repertoire of a dozen old-time fiddlers who spent a majority of their lives in Ohio, I have compiled a master list of more than 300 tunes. By cross-referencing this list, there were 12 tunes that I identified as “common,” based on their appearance in the repertoire of at least three fiddlers. The results of my findings follow.

This is far from a scientific method or academic study. I do not claim to be a musicologist or folklore scholar. I welcome any feedback.

Common Tunes:
Arkansas Traveler BirdieCumberland GapDurang’s HornpipeForked DeerGrey EagleJune AppleLeather BritchesMississippi SawyerRaggedy AnnTurkey in the StrawWild Horse At some point I would like to put together a list of tunes that are unique to Ohio or have a particular connection to an Ohio locale, such as Lonnie Seymour’s “Chillicothe Two-Step” or Arnold Sharp’s “Anna Hayes.” However,…

Review: Anna & Elizabeth, The Invisible Comes to Us

Warning: The music on this album may take you by surprise. Don’t panic. Anna & Elizabeth will guide you on the journey.

The Invisible Comes to Us opens with the duo of Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth LaPrelle singing “Jeano” unaccompanied in an echo chamber. As the song moves on, their voices are joined by synthesizers and the sound of chirping birds on a loop. You might think, maybe this is an aberration, as the electronic aural environment falls away and it’s just the voice and guitar of “Black Eyed Susan.” But once again, the plunges into a strange ethereal soundscape.

By the time you get to the end of “Irish Patriot,” you’ve been led into a sonic maze built on layers of keyboards, Moog bass, vocoder, mellotron, pump organ and added sound samples from field recordings.

Anna & Elizabeth built their reputation on haunting harmonies and illustrating their music and stories with “crankies,” an old storytelling art form where drawings on long scrolls and spools create a pri…