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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, John Haywood, Brett Ratliff, Jesse Wells and Matt Kinman. He had given Kinman a ride to Gibson’s house in Knott County, Kentucky. 

About the experience, Hicks says he was “deeply honored” and calls being recorded for a Smithsonian Folkways project “a lifelong ambition of mine.” After 10 years of waiting, however, he says he doesn’t “want to get bitter about this.” 

Filmmaker Yasha Aginsky worked with Seeger on the project. However, Seeger died in 2009 before the film could be released, and Hicks says he has heard “almost zero word about Banjo Tales since then.” 

Hicks goes on to say that a version of the film was shown at event in Berkeley, California, where they allegedly charged admission and held a Q&A session. 

“I gotta admit that a lot of people were offended when they heard that, that they showed the film at Berkeley and they had a panel interpreting it, but nobody notified any of us,” Hicks says, adding that he doesn’t want to offend anyone in bringing this information to light. 

In 2012, it appears Aginsky released a version of the film. You can view the trailer at IMDB.com, and an hourlong video at Aginsky’s Vimeo page. Whether that is the full Banjo Tales film is a bit uncertain. 

Hicks says he heard that Smithsonian Folkways has a completed version of the film and CD with liner notes, but that the producers ran into to some licensing problems that have prevented the project from being released. He urged viewers to email Smithsonian Folkways to request that Seeger’s final project be released.

“I want this project to be out,” Hicks says. “I want it to be out to the public. People need to hear and see the music that Mike and his team were able to record.”

After hearing Hicks’ story, I emailed Smithsonian Folkways and several individuals associated with the project. I’m happy to report that I received a prompt response from Mary Monseur, production manager at Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. Here is here email in full: 

  Thank you for reaching out to Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.
  The SFW project you’re referring to is called:
  Just Around The Bend: Survival and Revival in Southern Banjo Styles. Mike Seeger’s Final Documentary.
  It will be an oversized package with 2 audio CDs and one dvd (of Mike in the field recording and interviewing the artists). There will be a 6”x9” 80-page booklet with photos and extensive notes in the package.
  The film Banjo Tales was made by Yasha Aginsky with unused footage from his travels with Mike Seeger and released in 2012. I’m not sure where you can find it now. I found a link for the trailer it on this site:
https://vimeo.com/38655388
  I don’t know if or where the film is available.
  Banjo Tales is similar to the film that will be in our package (as it contains unused footage from Yasha’s trip with Mike) but it is not the same. The one in our package is longer and relates closely to the 2 CDs that will accompany it and features most of those artists.
  We are hoping to release Just Around the Bend in The spring of 2019. We’ve had some difficulty clearing sync licenses with for the film. We’re very close to having them now.
  Thanks for your interest. Stay tuned! Best, Mary M>


I thought it was important to put this information out there. I will make a note to follow up next year, but hopefully Smithsonian Folkways will release this final Mike Seeger project next spring as promised.

[Photo source: www.mikeseeger.info]

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