Thanks to clawhammer banjo maestro Ken Perlman (left), who was on tour in Ireland a year ago, for his spring 2014 newsletter. Much of the news can also be read (in abbreviated form) on the front page of his website. One update: the New York premiere of Harold Schiffman's three-movement concerto for clawhammer banjo and orchestra, written with Ken in mind as the soloist, was successfully held on 16 February. Ken comments: 'The open-back banjo held its own as a non-amplified solo instrument in a classical ensemble, without doubt!'
Another update: a few days later Ken taught clawhammer banjo at the Folk Alliance's first instructional music camp. His longtime collaborator, master fiddler and fiddle scholar Alan Jabbour (with whom Ken has been touring this year), taught fiddle. The BIB has already mentioned their joint CD Southern summits as a supreme collection of fiddle-and-banjo duets, and this YouTube video of them playing 'Waynesboro' is currently my regular self-administered 'cheer up' treatment.
A further update: Ken's eulogy on the late Pete Seeger, and a two-part interview he had had with Pete in 2000, can be read here.
Two major US annual banjo events - the Five String Fest and Jack Hatfield's Smoky Mountain Banjo Academy - found they were both scheduled for the first weekend in May this year. They joined forces, to the satisfaction of all concerned, and the joint event will be held in Lawndale, North Carolina.
Nechville Musical Products are sponsoring it by donating four of their banjos as prizes: a Custom Special Hellbilly Phantom, a Saturn, an Atlas 12" open-back, and a Classic Flextone, with a combined value of over $14,000. It's worth looking all of these up on the Nechville website as examples of highly imaginative design and faultless execution applied to every part of the banjo. Nechville banjos are emphatically not Mastertone clones.