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Finding the Connection

Learning to play the banjo began as solitary venture. Me plus banjo plus book plus websites: that's how I started.

This instrument and the music I wanted to play wasn't passed down to me from an elder. While my grandparents lived in Brevard, N.C., they didn't play music, and it wasn't until after I undertook the banjo that I learned of the region's thriving old-time community. Instead, the banjo was my key to connecting with others.

After two years of playing (but just one year of playing old-time), I finally summoned the courage to attend my first jam in May 2010, the Kent Shindig, in my hometown of Kent, Ohio. There, I found a thriving -- and growing -- group of people interested in the music to which I had become addicted. 

There's discussion now at the Banjo Hangout about missed generations in the old-time community, decrying the decreasing frequency of musicians learning knee-to-knee from their elders. 

Having to rely on technology to learn the music at first, I'm jealous of those who are able to connect with older masters. While I've had the opportunity to learn directly from Mark Olitsky and Dan Levenson, those opportunities were singular events, not ongoing apprenticeships. 

Slowly, I have become more and more acquainted with my local old-time community, attending nearby festivals and house concerts, developing a core group of musical friends, and expanding my horizons. These connections would have been impossible without I had decided to learn the banjo. 

When I interviewed Olitsky last year, he said something that has stuck with me ever since: "I wouldn't want to leave out that this is folk music — community music — and, for me, I can’t think of a nicer community to belong to.”

Community wasn't what I was looking for when I bought a banjo, but that's what I found. What I didn't know is how important such fellowship was and how much it was lacking in a world where status updates have taken the place of face-to-face interaction. 


  1. Great post. Def a topic that's on my mind all the time. My great grandparents where into (some played) old time music. But after that my family didn't care for it that much... Blows my mind cause it's so good!

  2. Thanks for the comment, JD. I'm just happy I found this music and small group of people to play it with. Because you're right, it's so good. Cheers!


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