23 October 2015

A banjo treat and a history lesson (together)

The region around Galax, in south-western Virginia, has been one of the richest in musical traditions and one of the most influential on developments in old-time and bluegrass music; so thanks to Bluegrass Today for this feature about a seminar on 5-string banjo styles, held in Chestnut Creek School of the Arts at Galax earlier this year.

The BIB strongly recommends an hour-long video of the seminar, which can be watched on Bluegrass Today or on YouTube. Musicians taking part are Ivy Sheppard, Kirk Sutphin, Bobby Lundy, Stevie Barr, and the moderator Jeremy Stephens (who plays, among other things, a hair-raising version of 'Yes, sir, that's my baby' in the style of Don Reno).

Nearly all the video is music, but what's not is highly informative. Brief individual interviews with the pickers illustrate their relationship with the music and the influences on their playing, with examples of the styles of older players such as Fred Cockerham, Bill Birchfield, Frank Jenkins, and Wade Ward. Among the important points made: contrary to the modern over-simplification 'old-time=clawhammer', many old-time musicians played clawhammer and two- or three-finger picking, and some two-finger playing was closer to bluegrass than some of what was done with three.

Jeremy Stephens also points out that his love for the work of the first generation of bluegrass players naturally led him to listen to the kinds of music that had influenced them - a similar journey to the road taken by Mike Compton as a devotee of the music of Bill Monroe.

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