Having experienced a case of “writer’s block” (if I can honestly call myself a “writer”) over the last few weeks, I believe it’s time to take a look back on 2016, and forward to 2017. The Holidays offer a great opportunity for reflection/speculation, and that’s what I have been doing.
2016 was by any measurement, a successful year for me as a banjoist. I had the opportunity to attend eight separate banjo events throughout the country; I helped put one of them together (St. Louis Four-String Banjo Review—the “2nd annual” show is already in the works; watch this space for more info), was a “headliner” in three of them (Sacramento, St. Louis, and Eureka Springs), and have been told that I did a good job. I had my first spin as an MC at the NAIBC in Dearborne; it was fun, but was also quite nerve-wracking (so I’m not sure what my future is in that capacity). I also had the opportunity to be the “cover boy” for the All Frets magazine.
More and more folks are reading and responding to my blogs, and my private lesson clientele has grown (including four young players from the STL BandJos). I find it very satisfying when a student references something I wrote in the last few years, whether it’s from a book (one self-published, one for the Clifford Essex Company), BMG Magazine, or from my blog. I should be overjoyed, but all of this serves mainly to show how much there is left to work on!
Looking forward, let me start by saying that I still have so much to learn! That’s why I write; there is no better educational impetus than by shouting a silly or controversial idea into the abyss, and then listening for the echo, hoping that I have at least gotten something right! I always cringe a bit when reading replies (good and bad); I’m afraid I’ll be exposed for the phony that I believe myself to be.
I have only recently developed an interest in the history of the four-string banjo; most of the time I feel like a babe in the woods regarding the subject. I was somewhat isolated up in the Pacific Northwest during my developmental years (1970s), and didn’t get to meet very many of the great players of the era (and I wasn’t particularly interested at that age anyway). I realize though that my ignorance is not entirely my fault; if there was a lot of historical information available on the four-string banjo (Wikipedia hardly scratches the surface), I wouldn’t have to speculate and guess!
Lucky for all of us, we live in an exciting time for the banjo: The American Banjo Museum unveiled a great new resource this past summer; the Banjo Players Directory. This is an interactive digital display at the museum, and is also available on line. Go to their website (www.americanbanjomuseum.com), hover over Exhibits, and click on Banjo Player Directory. Here you can search the quickly-growing database, or better yet—for a small donation to the museum—put yourself and/or another player into the directory!
It is very important to note that this is for all banjo players, regardless of type or ability level. As the saying goes, “there is strength in numbers.” I think we will all be surprised at just how many folks have played the banjo over the years (and I think non-players will be even more surprised)! Any good “history” focuses on the people involved in that history; the banjo is a fascinating instrument, but the players are so much-more important. They are the ones who play the confounded thing, and are the ones that we strive to emulate and honor as we move forward ourselves. Reading about the players is a great way to learn about the times they lived in as well.
As for me, I am redoubling my efforts to learn all I can as a banjo player/historian/ writer/teacher. One of my guiding personal principals is “the more you learn, the less you know.” As I have progressed in my writing, I have become more cautious; some of my early writing—especially for BMG—exposed my ignorance, cleverly disguised as enthusiasm (I humbly apologize to anyone I may have hurt or offended in this growth process). I am gradually replacing that ignorance/enthusiasm with real knowledge! The most-effective path to this for me has been by writing (“lucky” you!). I greatly appreciate any respect and confidence you may still have for me as I continue to “learn by doing.” Thank you for your support!
So, let’s get out there and make 2017 the Year of the Banjo! It is up to us! Get yourself (and a bunch of your friends) into the banjo player’s directory, and get yourself (and a bunch of your friends) to the 60th Anniversary All Frets convention in Nashville this July (http://www.allfrets.com)! See you there!