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Showing posts from 2015

5 Glory-Beaming Holiday Gift Ideas

As we did last year, here is a holiday gift guide for the banjo nerd in your life. Here are five glorious ideas for you last minute shoppers.

O Brother at 15: Finding a Fortune

O Brother, Where Art Thou? came out 15 years ago this month. My preoccupation with the soundtrack eventually led me to playing the banjo and old-time music.

Learning Triumphs Over Stagnation

For a while it seems my fiddling has been stuck. The plateau has become a rut. The last time I talked about this I was trying to learn some "Ohio repertoire" tunes by ear. That has been a hard road to travel as the distance between what I hear and what I play still seems too expansive.

Instead I've been playing the same handful of tunes over and over and over in the attempt to master them. But my limited playlist started to feel like a jail cell. There's no way out but to play through it. And that's what I'm doing.

Lake Erie Folk Festival Seeks Funding

Any distraction from winter in Northeast Ohio is a worthy investment. The organizers behind the Blue Sky Folk Festival are seeking donations for a new event this upcoming February. The Lake Erie Folk Festival is slated for Feb. 27, 2016, at the Shore Cultural Centre in Euclid.

Almost three years ago, the same venue was the site of the Shore Folk Festival. This appears to be a relaunch of that same event. The nonprofit group North East Ohio Musical Heritage Association, formed in 2014, has set up an Indiegogo page to raise $5,000 to help fund the Lake Erie Folk Festival.

Sinful Tunes and Documentaries

Originally published in 1977, Dena Epstein's seminal book, Sinful Tunes and Spirituals: Black Folk Music to the Civil War, provided definitive evidence that the banjo was first developed by African slaves, derived from similar instruments that are still played in countries like Gambia.

Push and Pull: The Struggle Is Real

There ever comes a time when the journey of learning a musical instrument reaches a plateau. These long improvement-less stretches start to feel like stagnation if linger they do too long. Upon one of these vast leveling off stages is where I find my fiddling today.

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.

Returning for a Farewell Reunion

Mining the depths of experience for a solution to my lack of banjo-related posts, I remembered my last hair cut. As it is nigh time for another, this was a couple months ago.

My barber, a short walk from my house, had closed his shop for his lunch break. Not wanting to give up and go home, I killed time at my local record store. I only had a $20, and my hair cut would take up most of that, so I wasn't expecting to purchase anything. Flipping through the "Folk/Misc." section, though, something changed my mind.

The cover was a wreck, held together with yellowed tape. But the sleeve had done its job, keeping the vinyl clean. For $2, I couldn't resist the lure of Mike Seeger, leaning against an old GMC truck parked inside the pitch black confines of a red barn, wearing jeans and a blue work shirt, above the words "The Second Annual Farewell Reunion" and featuring such old-time luminaries as the Highwoods, Roscoe Holcomb, Kilby Snow and of course the New Lost Ci…

Leftwich Lessons: The Fun's All Over

If you've been holding your breath since my last post, my apologies to your family. It's hard to believe it's been more than three months. My only excuse is that I haven't had much banjo-related news to report, as the fiddle has been my main instrument as I continue to tackle the fickle beast.

The few times I do drag out the banjo, it becomes part of  my son's playground. It most recently served as a road for his toy bus to drive along. His muting of the strings has actually led me toward a new staccato way of playing when I do manage to be left alone. The fiddle, though, reigns supreme.

This month marked a year and a half of working through Brad Leftwich's Learn to Play Old-Time Fiddle videos. Last week I started the final tune of the two DVD set, "Old-Time Blackberry Blossom" (aka "Garfield's Blackberry Blossom"). It's a real finger workout, but it's a fun tune.

Field Recorders' Collective: An Ohio Old-Time Connection

Don't you just love tax return season? While the bulk of this year's IRS and state tax refunds went to pay for grownup stuff, I squirreled a little bit away to use on new music. I got my own copy of the new Dan Gellert CD/DVD set from Old-Time Tiki Parlour, and then kept the Ohio old-time connection going with four albums from the Field Recorders' Collective, referred henceforth as the FRC.

Those four albums were:
Rector HicksJeff GoehringLonnie SeymourCecil Plum Hicks was recorded by Kerry Blech and Joe LaRose. The Goehring disk includes members of the legendary Red Mule String Band, as well as other notable musicians. The Seymour and Plum recordings come from Goehring's field recording collection.

As an Ohio boy, born and raised, these four albums have been on my wishlist for a long time.

Banjoversary: Seven-Year Itch

March 24 marks my seventh year playing the banjo. In the past, this date would be spent tallying my lifetime practice hours to see how close I've come to that magical 10,000-hour mark.

Ever since taking up the fiddle, however, those hours have become sparser and sparser. My banjo now spends most of its time hanging on the wall. I'll let my son strum the strings as we pass by its place. He's much gentler now. A year ago, I would hold my breath fearing that he'd snap off the strings.

The extent of my playing these days resides in noodling once or twice a week or the even rarer occasion of playing with friends at a party or festival. I'd much rather spend my free time tackling the beast that is the fiddle.


In the Tiki Parlour with Dan Gellert

For the first time in more than a decade, new recordings of Dan Gellert’s funky take on old-time music have been released. Thanks to the efforts of L.A.-based musician and teacher David Bragger and his newly launched Old-Time Tiki Parlour website, a CD and DVD set are now available to those who have been waiting for something new from Gellert since his 2004 album “Waitin' on the Break of Day,” which has been out of print for years.

Dubbed the “Epic Set,” the Gellert release contains two discs featuring 19 fiddle and banjo tunes and songs, as well as a booklet with extensive liner notes, biographies, art and photos. The entire package was produced, filmed, designed and written by old-time musicians, according to Bragger’s website. The whole shebang has been pre-released via Old-Time Tiki Parlour for $25 and will be available at Amazon, Elderly Instruments and County Sales by the end of February.

A Strapping Young Banjo Player

It may seem like a silly notion, but a new strap might be helping me play more banjo. For the longest time, I had a homemade strap fashioned from a leather belt blank, some grommets and leather shoelaces. It worked fine, but it was a royal pain in the you know what to put on and take off. For Christmas, I received a brown Neotech Slimline Strap, and I couldn't be happier.

As shown in this video, the attachment loops have a quick connect clasp for easy installation. Also, when I'm sitting down to play, I can quickly remove the strap without removing the attachment loops.

Furthermore, the leather is attractive, and the overall strap seems very sturdy. The memory foam padding provides a high level of comfort, especially compared to my DIY strap that had no padding whatsoever.

However, the best thing about the strap is that I can stand up to play, and that new development has been a real boon to my playing time over the last month.

Having an active 16-month at home, sitting down t…

Happy New Year, Fourth Quarter of Leftwich, Second Fiddle Anniversary, Banjo Birthday and Welcome Back

Welcome back, banjo nerds. I took a much-needed hiatus over the solstice celebration, and I return to you fresh as a daisy. But in the intervening weeks between my last post and this one, I've missed a few milestones. So, Happy New Year! Now, let's get back into the swing of things.

Christmas marked three important anniversaries:
Last year, I received the Brad Leftwich DVDs that I've been using to learn down-bow fiddling. In that time, I've made it through all of Lesson 1 and halfway through Lesson 2. The videos have greatly improved my bowing, though I know I still have a LONG WAY to go. I expect to finish Lesson 2 by June. By then I should have a nice repertory of tunes under my belt in various keys and tunings. With that said, two years ago was when I bought my fiddle from my friend Guy and began this crazy journey. It's hard to believe it's been that long. The time has flown by, and it's been a heckuva challenge. Finally, six years ago, I purchased my cu…