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Tracing the Banjo Addiction: The Alt-Country Years

My musical tastes started to flounder in my latter college years. I had always dived into each musical curiosity with great enthusiasm prior to then, but nothing caught my ear during the mid-2000s as I was going through a number of personal changes.

I quit my college job of driving buses after five years for an internship at a local weekly newspaper that I hoped would become my first "career," but my final semester stood in the way of that plan and I was unemployed for a short period. I moved three times in less than a year. By the time I graduated in 2005, I was living with a roommate I hardly knew and working two part-time jobs, one of which was at a new and used record store.

While working at the store, we always had music playing. The choices in what we played were as diverse as the people who worked there, from indie rock and old-school rock and roll to rap and country, all playing together on the store's five-disc CD player.

This was the time period when Modest Mouse, Franz Ferdinand and The Killers were popular, and I let my coworkers' choices influence my musical tastes. That's how I got turned onto "alt-country" music, from the likes of Gram Parsons, Uncle Tupelo, Ryan Adams, and Steve Earle.

Alt-country turned me onto a more acoustic sound. The twangy sound mixed with high-energy performance that typifies this genre attracted my ears from the get-go. Two occurrences during these "alt-country years" put me on the path toward my addiction to the banjo and old-time music.

First was purchasing Uncle Tupelo's 1992 album "March 16-20, 1992," which featured a large dose of traditional songs, many of which were culled from "High Atmosphere," the seminal field recording by founding New Lost City Rambler John Cohen. That album piqued my interest in delving more into traditional folk and early country music.

The second thing was discovering the roots music blog Hickory Wind. It was through this blog that I would discover Old Crow Medicine Show, The Avett Brothers, Gillian Welch and the Carolina Chocolate Drops, bands that promote an old-time aesthetic and feature lots of banjo. I would eventually email one of Hickory Wind's contributors about buying my first banjo.

[Editor's note: This is the second piece in a series of posts documenting my fall into banjo. Read the first piece here.]


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