Skip to main content

Who's Making That Racket!

The popularity of Old-Time music follows a cyclical trend. When the record industry was created in the 1920s, it was this traditional music that topped the charts. When Bill Munroe created Bluegrass, his repertoire was based in this earlier style. During the 1950s, when Pete Seeger was freaking out Joe McCarthy, Old-Time revivalists were forming the basis of the Folk Boom of the '60s. Nearly every decade has had some form of resurgence in American Folk music. The past few years seem to be showing another up-tick in this raucous music.

So, just what the heck is Old-Time? That seems to stump many people. To the layman, Old-Time gets lumped in with Bluegrass as one in the same. In fact, I didn't know the difference between the two styles until I was about a year into playing the banjo. The late Mike Seeger tried to explain it in an essay from 1997, appropriately called "What Is Old-Time Music?"

I like to think of the difference between Old-Time and Bluegrass as my parents might think of the difference between the Rolling Stones and Primus. That new stuff might be faster and "cooler," but I can't dance to it. 

The confusing thing about Old-Time is that it seems to have always been called Old-Time or Old-Timey. That's probably because many of the tunes predate American settlers, as the tradition has roots in English, Irish and Scottish folk music, as well as some African influence. Like American culture, Old-Time is a melting pot of heritage and constant evolution, as the music is passed from generation to generation. 

While there are innumerable past musicians whom you should listen to if you're interested in this music, there are an increasing number of contemporary Old-Time groups that are worthy of your attention. Furthermore, these are groups that are touring now, which means you can actually see them play. 

The Dust Busters of Brooklyn, N.Y., just completed a winter tour; the Foghorn Stringband (and Trio), of Portland, Ore., is currently making the rounds; Old Sledge, of Eggleston, Va., has dates set up for early Spring; and recent Grammy winners the Carolina Chocolate Drops never seem to stop, even with a recent lineup change

These groups are just a snippet of the young bands at the heart of the current Old-Time community, whereas you'll find many more in various pockets throughout the United States. In future posts, I'll try to profile the individuals and groups that are essential listening for fans of Old-Time.

Uncounted are the musicians who gather regularly at local jam sessions and at seasonal festivals, forming impromptu bands that are at once brilliant and fleeting. If you want to know who is making Old-Time music today, scour the coffee shops and bars, college campuses and church basements, festival grounds and park areas -- these are the venues where the music is truly alive. 


Popular posts from this blog

Master and Apprentice: Banjo Builder Workshop in Historic Peninsula, Ohio

The 191-year-old Peninsula, Ohio, provided the backdrop to a parade of pedestrians making their way from station to station across the bucolic village for Music on the Porches on Saturday.

Inside the close confines of Bronson Church, founded in 1835, a master and apprentice presented a free workshop on the art of instrument building. That master being the renowned banjo builder and artist Doug Unger and his former apprentice Mark Ward.

Unger and Ward began the workshop by playing several old-time tunes, discussing their work and the music, and taking questions from the audience. Unger then invited the spectators to step up to the front to see the instruments.

Highwoods Documentary Not a Lost Cause After All

So, once upon a time, I tried to drum up support for a crowdfunded documentary project about the Highwoods Stringband. I donated money to help out, and more than a year later I provided an update on the slow progress. Last I heard, there was some old footage of the Highwoods they were trying to acquire. It's been three and a half years now that I first heard about the project, and I still haven't received my DVD.

I figured that's the risk you take with these crowdfunded, Kickstarter-type projects. I had all but given up the documentary as a lost cause. Until today. If I managed to convince any of you to help fund the project, I felt it my duty to pass along this update directly from Highwoods mainstay Walt Koken.
"After several delays and setbacks, we, the members of the Highwoods Stringband and Mudthumper Music have procured the vintage footage and photos in cooperation with the original producers and put them into the hands of another videographer, Larry Edelman, in …

2016 Year in Review / 2017 Look Ahead

Well, it's been a minute, hasn't it? The last year has been difficult on many fronts. Playing music was no exclusion. The amount of time I spent playing banjo and fiddle suffered the most. I didn't blog much either, which you already knew. But it wasn't all bad. Here's a look back at last year and a look ahead to my goals for the year ahead.

2016 Notes
I have now been playing banjo for eight years and fiddle for four years. My focus remains on the fiddle, as I try to learn general technique and tunes. Time spent playing banjo was mostly to keep up with a handful of tunes I like most.

Playing Time: Due to increased work travel and other factors, my playing time was dramatically reduced in 2016. As mentioned before, I log my practice time in the quest to reach that fabled 10,000-hour mark. This last year was my lowest (by far) amount of time spent on banjo and second lowest time on fiddle.

New Tunes: Despite my reduced playing time, I worked through two fiddle instruct…