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Taylor Pfeiffer

FEATURED ARTIST - FEBRUARY 2017

Inspired to play Banjo at the age of seven after hearing the 1960's TV Series Skippy, Sixteen-year-old Taylor Pfeiffer has been playing the five-string banjo for nine years. At the age of ten, Taylor taught herself to yodel, after listening to her favourite yodellers. Taylor has performed on stage with Australian Country Music Golden Guitar award winners Lee Kernaghan (2014 Tamworth, 2013 Tamworth & Urban CMF Qld), Troy Cassar-Daley (2016 Tamworth & 2012 Barossa Valley), Kasey Chambers, Adam Harvey, The Davidson Brothers, Pete Denahy and opened shows for Amber Lawrence & Bill Chambers. Hailing from Adelaide, South Australia, Taylor regularly performs country and bluegrass music throughout Australia and credits include major festivals Tamworth Country Music Festival (2016, 2015, 2014, 2013), 50th National Folk Festival in Canberra ACT (2016), The Gympie Muster (2014) and The Urban Country Music Festival (2014).

Taylor has appeared on several TV Shows throughout Australia including ABC1 TV Show Spicks & Specks (2014 Episode 8), Channel 9 The Today Show (2015), Channel 7 Sunrise and Weekend Sunrise (2014), Channel 44 Our Time(2014), ABC1 Behind The News (2013) and she was personally invited to perform for Nashville’s Music City Roots Show (Filmed in Tamworth 2013). Taylor has had numerous in-studio radio interviews with popular 891ABC Adelaide presenters Peter Goers & Sonya Feldhoff, Ian McNamara (Macca) and has interviewed Lee Kernaghan for ABC’s Saturday Night Country.

Taylor was awarded the 2015 Australian Country Music People’s Choice Awards – Most Promising Future Star at a special presentation at Capitol Theatre, Tamworth NSW.

June 2016 Taylor released her first Album Five Strings Attached, showcasing her abilities as a professional banjo player and musician. Recorded at Red Brick Recording Studio and Produced by Anthony Stewart, Taylor not only plays banjo but also plays drums on the album. Five Strings Attached provides great variety for the listener with classic banjo instrumentals, vocals, yodelling and the first release from the album Not This Time Around, an original by Taylor.

Taylor’s previous EP You Were The Stranger, featuring 5 Original tracks was Produced by Bill Chambers and Co-Produced by Taylor. She was a Top 5 Songwriter Finalist for songs; You Were There Stranger and Toughen Up Princess in the Tamworth Songwriters Awards and Policeman Yodel won the Judges Award at the Canberra Country Music Songwriters Awards and won 3rd Place in the ACMF Songwriting Awards. Recently Taylor was awarded 2nd Place in the ASME Young Composers Award – Pop Section for her latest composition.

You Were The Stranger, Taylor’s first single reached Number 21 on the official Country Music Top 40 Radio Charts and Toughen Up Princess reached Number 18. At just fifteen years of age, Taylor’s video Toughen Up Princess was announced the Winner of the Australian Independent Music Video Awards at a special presentation in Canberra and is regularly aired on Foxtel, Country Music Channel. Check it out on youtube.com

Banjo is Taylor’s first instrument, but she’s becoming well known as a Multi-Instrumentalist. Taylor began playing Drums at the age of six, and has been awarded a Five-year Music Scholarship at a prestigious school in Adelaide. Taylor also plays guitar.

Taylor was awarded the 2013 South Australian Junior Champion of Champions and is a graduate from the 2011, 2012 and 2014 CMAA Academy of Country Music Junior Course in Tamworth.

Taylor is proudly sponsored by Australian company Bellbird Banjos and USA Company D’Addario Strings.

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The Banjo Reserve recently interviewed Taylor Pfeiffer, here's what she had to say.

Q.  How did you learn the Banjo, and what method of learning do you feel is most effective?
A.
 I have been learning banjo from a local banjo teacher here in Adelaide, Australia for 10 years. I feel that having a banjo teacher is the most effective method of learning as I can ask heaps of questions, and have someone constantly monitoring my progress on a regular basis.

Q.  You have been playing banjo for nine years, during the early stages of learning to play the Banjo what did you find most challenging? What was your approach to overcome these challenges?
A.
 I have been learning banjo for ten years now, and I can clearly remember the challenges at first. When I first picked up the banjo, I found it quite difficult to develop my right-hand technique of the constant rolling action, and having two fingers resting on the skin. What overcame this challenge was repeating the same rolls over and over at a slow speed until I felt I had it right. Another challenge was trying to play at a fast tempo. A few years into my learning I just wanted to play like Earl, so I compromised on my technique to do this! I have learned the lesson that playing with the right technique is the only way to gain speed.

Q.  What specific challenge(s) are you working on today?
A.
 I love challenges as they always result in learning new things, but at the moment my main challenge is trying to move banjo out of that 'hillbilly' music stereotype - I mean, banjo can be a prominent instrument in any genre. At the moment I have been working on playing melodic banjo, and putting my own spin on pop songs such as 'Life On Mars'. This has been heaps of fun for me!

Q.  Where do you see banjo music going and what is your role in that?
A.
 Banjo is such a happy instrument, so for that reason it will always be a feature in music, specificaly bluegrass and country music. There are so many great players like Jens Kruger and Béla Fleck who are innovating the style of the instrument, and taking it to new places musically that it has never been before. This has helped to shape the banjo as a versatile instrument, so I believe banjo music will feature more melodic aspects while still keeping with classic Scruggs licks and styles, and this is what I have been working on.

Q.  Are there any banjo artists from the past or present that have a significant influence on your interest in banjo music, technique, or future project?
A.
 I'm inspired by so many banjo players! I was super lucky to attend the Australian Bluegrass Conference in December last year where I had workshops and jams with Jens Kruger of the Kruger Brothers. He has inspired me to take the banjo to new and exciting places! The main thing I learned from him over the conference was that feel and emotion in music is more important than anything.

Q.  Bellbird Banjo Company, located in Brisbane, Australia, is one of your sponsors and manufactured the banjo we see you performing with most often. Will you share your thoughts with us regarding what you enjoy the most about this banjo/brand?
A.
 I'm so grateful for the support Peter Nahuysen of Bellbird Banjo Company has given me. I have been playing the 'Raintree' model for almost five years, and I love this instrument as it has the ability to produce the sharp, twangy tone needed for fast bluegrass songs, as well as a warm, mellow tone for the melodic songs I like to play. I believe this is because of the wooden tone ring my banjo has, which also has the advantage of making my banjo much lighter (although it is still heavy!). What I enjoy most about Bellbird Banjos is the attention to detail given by Peter to create the highest quality banjos that sound as beautiful as they look. My banjo is made from Australian timber which makes it even more special to play.

Q.  You have occasionally posted your busking appearances on social media. What area(s) of your profession does busking prepare you for, or play a role?
A.
 I love busking because it allows me to introduce banjo music to a new audience. This has provided many opportunities for new gigs, and new fans! Busking is a great way to practice and develop performance techniques.

Q.  You are clearly a hard-working and accomplished young banjo player, entertainer, singer, song-writer and multi-instrumentalist. What is your advice to other young musicians about balancing all the personal and professional demands of pursuing a career in music?
A.
 Thank you so much, I love playing music! That is a hard question as I'm still learning myself, but I think that it is important to set goals for yourself and to keep surprising people with your creativity, and to always have fun!

Q.  Among numerous talents, songwriting appears to be a significant passion of yours. Do you have any particular triggers for your creative process? Do you tend to write music specifically for the banjo?
A.
 I love songwriting so much! Anything and anyone can inspire a song. From watching the greats, to everyday situations, and a need to try something different. I have a very open mind when I write, so I don't think of writing music specifically for the banjo when I'm being creative. Instead, I tend to write music with a new technique or structure that I haven't used in previous songs that I've written.

Q.  At this point in your banjo playing career, what work, project or event are you most proud of?
A.
 I am really proud of my latest album 'Five Strings Attached' and how I incorporated Scruggs style, melodic songs, and my arrangement of 'Life On Mars' on the album. I worked really hard to have this diverse range of styles. I am also proud of teaching a 6-week banjo course to a class of 13 students. We had so much fun!

Q.  What other interests do you have?
A.
 I am always playing music, but when I'm not I love spending time with friends and family, and I love reading!

Q.  Tell us something about yourself that you think our Community might enjoy.
A.
 I started playing banjo at the age of seven after hearing the iconic theme song to the Australian TV Show 'Skippy The Bush Kangaroo'. I don't think that you can get any more Australian than that! This year, I am in my final year of school.

 Check out Taylor Pfeiffer's music in our music store.

Check Out This Artist's Band:

 taylorpfeiffer.com

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Danny Barnes

FEATURED ARTIST - APRIL 2016
Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo & Bluegrass Winner 2015

I’ve been at this a pretty long time. The main thing I use to get my ideas across has been the banjo, it has an unusual sound and is capable of a wide range of expression. However, it isn’t very developed yet, in terms of what is being done with it in a current macro sense. It’s untapped.

A lot of what I do was informed by punk rock and dub music from the 70’s, I bought those records when they were new, thus starting a lifelong obsession of buying records. I received a degree from the University of Texas [Austin] in audio production, and loved the classes there about the history of audio and recorded music. That’s where I first started hearing experimental music, that’s also where I learned to be very comfortable in a recording studio. Later I became the principle songwriter/producer/singer for Bad Livers, and eventually launched my own private record label ( Minner Bucket Records ), publishing company, and solo career in about 1998.

I have some good friends in bands of various sizes, some of them are these quite famous people, though I try to learn from anyone that has an “idea.” My whole thing is music, and trying to make my own sound. I have developed a specific technique I call barnyard electronics which is an aesthetic combining various bits of bluegrass, noise, rock, and electronic music. The live aspect involves a computer program I built in max/msp and a banjo. I do about 150 domestic shows a year with that set-up.

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The Banjo Reserve recently interviewed Danny Barnes, here's what he had to say.

Q.  How did you learn the Banjo, and what method of learning do you feel is most effective?
A.
 I learned from a fellow Maxie Roessler in Temple, TX, from slowing down records and watching Ed Shelton play, stuff like that. I think learning is like fishing, sometimes someone that has no idea what they are doing can use the most obtuse methods to fish and catch fish. Sometimes the pros get stumped, all that matters is, does your method work? It's hard to have a reductionist view of how everything should be done in terms of an art. If your method isn't working, get a new one. If it is working, stick with that.

Q.  During the early stages of learning to play the Banjo, what did you find most challenging?
A.
 Getting a good tone out of the the dang thing, and what to do when you weren't actually soloing. That's a very challenging study right there.

Q.  What challenges do you still hope to master today?
A.
 I'm still working on my reading, improvising, composition, tone, being able to play other idioms and just general music i suppose. I would like to be a master someday. I would like to be able to make someone feel something.

Q.  Where do you see banjo music going and what is your role in that?
A.
 There are a lot better players than me that I suppose would just jump in there and start answering, and I preface every utterance with, "I could be wrong about the whole thing," but, I don't really feel like there is such a thing as banjo music. I think the banjo is a medium like a pencil and a person can do whatever they want or are able to with a pencil. But, there really isn't a form called pencil art. I think the banjo is used to play music. If you have a thesis like "there is banjo music." you have to look at the antithesis which is, "there is no such thing as banjo music," and then synthesize the two. thesis, antithesis, synthesis. I feel like my role is to master the instrument and to play the music that is in my heart and head. For me the banjo is a tool, a tool with which to make art. There are so many great guys that play, I don't think I can really add much to that party. However, I do have my own experience, my own research into philosophy, poetry, sound, art and things like that. that's what I hope to bring out, using the banjo.

Q.  Your most recent album “Got Myself Together (Ten Years Later)” was released on November 27, 2015 to great reviews such as the one by Bluegrass Today. Do you have another project in the works or special event that you would like to share with readers?
A.
 I'm still out there playing a lot of shows this year behind that record. So, I'm still kind of in that mode. I would think as well, it's a pretty fair bet I have about 15 other records the readers haven't heard yet, I have a LOT of art out there. As always, I'm working, writing and practicing. So, yes there's new stuff coming out all the time. I have a batch of new songs i'm writing, I have a pure banjo record coming out with some of my bluegrass pals ( Nick Forster, Mike Bub, Jason Carter, and Chris Henry ). I'm working on a suite of dodecaphonic ( 12-tone ) music for tuba and banjo. I'm working on a tuba / alto sax duet record with my friend Jacob Navarro whereby we are playing music by contemporary composers. The Test Apes are working on a new metal / noise / punk rock record ( I play a banjo tuned to E with an added bass string on a Les Paul frame called the "barnjo" ). Lots of stuff, I have more ideas than I have life left to do them in.

Q.  Throughout your career you have pushed the limits with the banjo, well known for crossing genres, writing, singing and playing with some of the music industry’s biggest names. Where are you most comfortable in this profession? Perhaps another way to ask this is “when are you most in your zone”?
A.
 My degree is in Audio Production. I like making records, I'm very comfortable with computers and tape machines, that's what I like best is making records. I like machines, I'm more at home with a machine than a person. I feel like machines are my friends and have anthropomorphed them where I feel like they have personalities and stuff like that. I like how you can use them to make stuff and how you can have happy accidents.

Q.  How has winning the "Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass" changed your life and your musical career?
A.
 Oh, that's been a tremendous blessing. I suppose the biggest thing is that I always feel like I'm kinda outside looking in, I've never really felt a part of things too much. Winning that award has really caused me to gather stock and think about things. There's people listening to my work even when I worry they don't. I'm friends with some of the biggest names in music, there's 7 or 8 people on my contact phone list that are zillionaires. I love to point this out when people say you can't make money with music. It has also caused me to take a fresh look at myself, to appreciate myself and my work a little more. I've sacrificed everything in order to learn to play the banjo, I never had kids, or a day job really ... since i got out of college anyway. I don't take vacations, all i do is work. This is not the life for everyone. My feeling is that most folks are afraid of work. A couple weeks ago I was working on a record and we did 72 hours in six days. Not up walking around making a sandwich, but 72 hours of straight busting. A 40 hour week is a very slow week for me, there's so much to do and learn.

Q.  You and Bob Bishline collaborated on the design and creation of the "Danny Barnes Amplified Woody" banjo. What were your goals with this design? Have you used it on a song that you have published?
A.
 I play a lot of different ways on a banjo and we wanted to make something that could work in lots of different approaches. A little shorter scale for these long reaches and ergo you could run slightly thicker strings. Also, a minimalist design aesthetically, so a regular person could afford one. We've sold quite a few. I've used that banjo on lots of records, Pizza Box and Ambient Works Vol. 1. I've probably made about 8 of my own records with it and played it on about 200 records by others. I got a platinum record with it, and I used it on the Dave Matthews record Big Whiskey. I got a Bishline open-back from Rob recently and used that banjo exclusively on my newest "Got Myself Together". There is one overdub on that record with a Bishline Cardinal.

Q.  At this point in your banjo playing career, what work or event are you most proud of?
A.
 I'm real proud of being in the Bad Livers, getting to tour with Bill Frisell, playing with Dave Matthews, lots of stuff. I'm the most proud of having a big body of work. If you dig around in there, there is a LOT of stuff, I have a huge catalog.

Q.  What other interests do you have?
A.
 Reading philosophy, working on my old VW van, working in my yard, walking. I'm very active in the alcohol recovery community, meditation, and riding my motorcycle. I follow basketball and baseball, lots of stuff like that.

Q.  Tell us something about yourself that you think our Community might enjoy.
A.
 I got to know John Hartford a bit, and he was a brilliant guy. I think it would be good if we as a community, fostered creativity more. It's one thing to learn how to play something well, but it's a whole other idea to create new forms. If you don't know his work, you should dive in there. He had so many periods there is sure to be something there for you. My three favorite living banjo players to listen to are Charlie Cushman, Rob McCoury, and Reed Martin. If you don't know them, or one of those guys, you would enjoy digging in there.

 Go to Danny Barne's complete discography.

Check Out This Artist's Band:

 Danny Barnesdannybarnes.com
 Danny Barnes & Thee Old Codgers
 Bad Liversbadlivers.com

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Jim Coston

Born in 1954 in St. Petersburg, Florida Jim is the younger of twin boys born to James & Patricia Coston. Jim was raised in Florida attending elementary schools in St. Petersburg and graduating from Zephyrhills (Fla.) High School in 1972.

While in High School, Jim worked at a Richardson's Funeral Home where he ran ambulance calls and assisted in mortuary duties such as embalming and removals.

Upon graduation, Jim obtained his E.M.T. (Emergency Medical Technician) certification at Pasco-Hernanado Community College and continued working in the EMS field at Jackson Memorial Hospital (Dade City, Fla.) and eventually SunCoast Ambulance Service in St. Petersburg.

In 1973, Jim moved west to Phoenix, Arizona where he spent two years working for Kord's Gold Cross Ambulance. Returning to Florida in 1975, Jim completed his Paramedic training at St. Petersburg Junior College and gained his state certification.

Upon completing certification, Jim was hired by Charleston County (S.C.) EMS and spent four years with the system. While working for Charleston Co. EMS, Jim gained S.C. Paramedic Certification (#172), Rescue Squad and Radiological Monitoring training.

While living in Charleston, Jim bought a tenor banjo in a pawn shop for $35 dollars, a decision that would eventually change his career path.

A love of music and show business in general led Jim to spend many hours each day practicing his new instrument. Unfortunately, there were no teachers of 4-string banjo in the Charleston area and the learning process was painfully slow. Jim drove 400 miles to Orlando, Florida on every opportunity just to listen to professional banjo players.

Finally, the realization that if he were to improve, he would need the support and guidence of other musicians led Jim to move to Orlando, Florida where he could surround himself with the talented performers from Disney World and Rosie O'Grady's.

In 1980, Jim began working for Herndon Ambulance Service in Orlando while studying the techniques of banjoists such as Randy Morris, Pat Terry Jr. & Eddie Erickson. In early 1981, there was an audition call for a new vaudeville-melodrama theatre called Daisy's Basement - Jim was hired on the spot.

Critically acclaimed by the Orlando Sentinel Star newspaper but unable to compete with the bigger downtown and area attractions, Daisy's Basement changed format in 1982 but not before Jim had gained valuable stage experience.

Unemployment didn't last long as the cruise ship "Scandinavian Sun" sailing out of Miami came calling, as did a 60 city national touring show called "The Riverboat Ragtime Revue" produced by Bill Fegan Attractions. "Riverboat Ragtime Review" featured many prominent New Orleans Jazz musicians including Bob French (Drums), Pud Brown (Clarinet) & Walter Payton (Bass).

Upon completion of the touring show, Jim returned to Orlando where he divided his time between spot jobs for Rosie O'Grady's, private parties and part time work at Herndon Ambulance.

In 1984, a decision was needed. Either Jim would renew his Florida Paramedic Certification and continue in EMS or he would pursue a full time career in show business. After 14 years of emergency work that included of 15,000 ambulance calls, Jim decided to let his state certification lapse.

Fortunately, the the choice was the right one. Within a month of leaving the ambulance service, Jim had secured another cruise ship ("Emerald Seas") as well as a six month contract at the 1984 World's Fair held in New Orleans.

While working at the Fair, Jim was hired by New Orleans Paddlewheels Inc. for their new riverboat "Creole Queen". Jim continued with the riverboat after the World's Fair closed, but the Louisiana economy suffered through off shore oil industry cutbacks and full time work became difficult to sustain.

The cruise industry again came calling with a rapid succession of headline cabaret contracts with Costa, Commodore and Carnival Cruises. In 1987, a call from the Bramson Entertainment Bureau in New York City led to artist representation that is still going strong today.

Along the way, in addition to cruise ships, Jim has been a Cruise Director on board the riverboat "Queen of the West" sailing from Portland, Oregon. Jim has also been Entertainment Director / Entertainer at Maxwell's Jazz Cabaret in New Orleans French Quarter, as well as having performed across the USA in theaters and nightclubs and numerous conventions.

An avid computer user since he bought his first Radio Shack TRS-80 in 1981, Jim has written software in BASIC, DBXL, VB5 as well as HTML design. Jim has served as a consultant for his twin brother Mike who has been a software developer for over 15 years.

In 1995, Jim was approached by Gale Research to write a chapter for their Career Advisor Series book "The Performing Arts Career Directory" pertaining to performing on cruise ships. Previously, Jim had served as Associate Editor for International Banjo Magazine from 1980 -1984 and still writes occasional articles for several publications nationally.

Today, Jim continues as a headline Cabaret Act for Princess Cruises, Regent Seven Seas & Oceania Cruises having appeared worldwide on over 85 different cruise ships.

For over 21 years he resided in the historic French Quarter of New Orleans, La. up until losing his home in Hurricane Kristina.

Currently, Jim is residing in Khao Sai, Thailand (just north of Bangkok) when not on tour.

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The Banjo Reserve recently interviewed Jim Coston, here's what she had to say.

Q.  How did you learn the Banjo, and what method of learning do you feel is most effective?
A.
 I was largely self taught long before the advent of the Internet. I received a lot of support from Banjo Players I met at FIGA ( Fretted Instrument Guild of America ) Conventions in the late '70's & early '80's. Major influences were Pat Terry Jr., Randy Morris & Eddie Erickson who were all based out of Walt Disney World in Orlando FL.

The instructional book that first opened the door for me was a long out of print copy of Harry Reser's "Let's Play the Tenor Banjo". The last dozen pages showed every chord inversion up and down the neck of the banjo and that opened the world of "Chord Melody" playing to me.

Looking back, if I had the opportunity to take lessons from a live instructor, I probably would have learned a whole lot quicker. Not having a teacher meant I developed my own "sound", for better or for worse.

Q.  During the early stages of learning to play the Banjo, what did you find most challenging?
A.
 Improvisation. I always had a pretty good "right hand" but the fret board was (and some days, still is) a major challenge. I once had a Banjoist tell me that it takes about 20 years to really truly begin to understand the Instrument. If that's true, I'm about 15 years behind schedule!

Q.  What challenges do you still hope to master today?
A.
 I'd like to be a better player in all areas but primarily I'd like to be better at improvising. I'm pretty good at what I do as long as I don't "stray" too far from what I already know. I'd like to be able to have the confidence to go out on stage and really wing it!

I'd also like to be able to play without making weird facial expressions!

Q.  Where do you see banjo music going and what is your role in that?
A.
 When I began doing my Banjo Cabaret Show on Cruise Ships in 1982, the average age of the passenger was 65, meaning they were born in 1917 and grew up with the music of the Roaring Twenties, the 1930's Movie Musicals and the Big Bands of the 1940's. My shows were the music of their generation and it enjoyed a good reception.

Flash forward to today. Cruise Ship passengers are STILL 65 years old (on average) but now they were born in 1950 and grew up with the music of Elvis, The Beatles and Led Zeppelin. My shows still "work" but now more as a novelty act - it's the music their parents (and grandparents) grew up with.

I've had people tell me I should "modernize" my shows, and to a certain extent, I have, but I'm not interested in playing "newer" music on the banjo just to attract a younger audience demographic. If the musics "feels right" on a banjo, I'm all for it but I'm not interested in playing just to satisfy a market.

After 33 years "on the road", I know I'm on the downside of my career. Thirty three years is a pretty good run and I'm hopeful there is still a little more gas in the tank. As long as there is a market for what I do and I'm still able to perform it well, I'll be out there strumming away.

Q.  What most inspires you to play?
A.
 Playing the banjo has taken me to over 116 countries & territories and 46 US States. I've played with Grammy Award Winners and hung out with Astronauts, Authors & Academy Award Winners - all because of the banjo! The fact that playing the banjo has made ALL that happen inspires me to pick it up every day and hopefully, get a little bit better.

Q.  What song(s) do you enjoy playing the most on your Banjo?
A.
 I love playing most everything in my shows. The great thing about doing your own show is that YOU choose what music you want to play, not some Show Producer or Director. I've always been able to play the music I loved. It's still a thrill to hear the audiences emotional reaction to a song like "Danny Boy" or "Stars & Stripes Forever".

I love playing things on the banjo that most people don't expect. The best comment I get after my shows is "Wow!, I never knew you could play _ _ _ _ _ on a banjo!".

Q.  Based on your professional experiences as a Banjo Player, what advice do you have for beginners?
A.
 Play for the love of playing. I was lucky enough to start playing professionally 35 years ago. If I were were starting out now, I doubt the opportunities I had would then would present themselves today... but that wouldn't stop me from playing.

Don't try to copy other players "note for note", that has already been done (and probably a lot better!) Put yourself into the music and enjoy the ride where the music takes you.

Don't assume the banjo is only suitable for playing one style of music You'd be amazed at what the banjo can do, if you give it a chance.

Q.  At the time of this interview TBR is not aware of any music that you have recorded to sell for retail. Has this ever been of interest to you? Do you have any plans to record in the future?
A.
 I recorded an album (Cassette) back in the 1990's with several members of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band at George Buck's Studio in New Orleans. I used to sell it "on the road" but never produced it for mass retail distribution.

I don't have any immediate plans to go back into the Studio but wouldn't rule it out if a project appealed to me.

Q.  You've lived in Florida, South Carolina, New Orleans, and now Khao sai, Thailand. Does each location influence your technique in some way?
A.
 South Carolina was where I bought my first banjo in a pawn shop for $35. Unfortunately there were no teachers in the area which prompted me to quit my job there and move to Orlando, Fl . where I hoped I could pursue the instrument.

Living in Orlando, Florida was a major Disney World influence in the 1980's, lots of great musicians and friends and I learned a lot there. It also made working the Cruise Ships out of Miami an easy commute. New Orleans was a magical 20 years living in the French Quarter and playing with some of the greats such as Danny Barker & Pete Fountain.

Thailand is now home (after losing pretty much everything in Hurricane Katrina) and I adore it. I may be the only 4 string banjo player in the country!

Q.  You have created the entertaining comic strip "Jim's Banjo World", demonstrating another talent of yours! Tell us more about your interest in creating and developing this comic strip.
A.
 Comedy has always been a love of mine. I do a lot in my shows and about a year ago I found a website that allowed you to create comics quite easily. I did about a half dozen and posted them online to a pretty good response. After twelve months, I've created over 275 comics, all relating to banjos and banjo players (you can see them all on my Pinterest Account).

It's been a lot of fun but honestly, after almost 300 strips, I'm running out of new ideas! I'll continue to do them as I find funny subjects to tackle.

Q.  At this point in your banjo playing career, what work or event are you most proud of?
A.
 I'm most proud that I have been a working entertainer who has managed to make a pretty decent career out of doing something I truly love. I've been extremely lucky and I know it.

Q.  What other interests do you have?
A.
 I love old Radio, TV & Movies. I have approximately three terabytes of downloaded material still "waiting" to be watched! I love to travel and have begun travellng for enjoyment and not just for work.

Living in Thailand for the past ten years has truly been a wonderful experience. I love the food, culture and people here. I suspect I will live out the rest of my life here quite happily.

Q.  Tell us something about yourself that you think our Community might enjoy.
A.
 I wasn't always going to be a Banjo Player. I didn't pick up the Instrument until I was 23 years old! In High School, I worked at a local Mortuary where I was an Embalmer and Ambulance Attendant. I went on to become an Advanced Cardiac Life Support Paramedic for a number of years until my banjo career took off.

Check out this Artist's website:

  banjojimcoston.blogspot.com

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Ron Block

Ron Block has contributed banjo, guitar, and vocals to Alison Krauss and Union Station since 1991. He has also written 10 Alison Krauss and Union Station songs, including “In the Palm Of Your Hand” and “A Living Prayer”, which received a 2006 Gospel Music Association Dove Award for Bluegrass Song of the Year. Ron’s songs have been recorded by artists such as Randy Travis, Rhonda Vincent, and Michael W. Smith. Ron has also recorded with Dolly Parton, Brad Paisley, Josh Turner and several other artists throughout his musical career.

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The Banjo Reserve recently interviewed Ron Block, here's what he had to say.

Q.  How did you learn the Banjo, and what method of learning do you feel is most effective?
A.
 I use a lot of different materials and methods. Early on I started learning both by tablature and listening, and in those pre-internet days before you could search out tablature for songs, it wasn't long before I was tabbing out solos for myself. I go through different phases, but I'll list some of them out - these are in no particular order of importance:

1.  Practicing with a drum machine or metronome. With a simple beat, kick-snare-kick-snare, boom-chick-boom-chick (four notes per boom, four notes per chick), and I play along as if it were bass and mandolin. This is probably my most common form of drum machine practice. But sometimes I will take out the chick and play eight notes per boom. Note: The metronome is constant and does not adjust to me. I must adjust to it.

2.  (A) Practicing with recordings, usually old stuff like Flatt & Scruggs, Jimmy Martin, J.D. Crowe and the New South, etcetera. This is great for feel. (B) Practicing with non-bluegrass recordings - blues, or old country, and occasionally jazz. Note: The recording is not constant and does not adjust to me. I must adjust to it.

3.  Practicing solo and going only from my own sense of time.

4.  Playing with other people. This is my favorite form of practice. Note: The other people adjust to me, and I adjust to them.

5.  Transcribing.

6.  Listening.

Q.  During the early stages of learning to play the Banjo, what did you find most challenging?
A.
 Tuning the dang thing! No, actually I read some things early on about timing that really helped me focus in on that aspect of banjo, especially Hartford's liner notes on the J.D. Crowe and the New South record, Rounder 0044. I bought a metronome early, one I could use with headphones, and I'd sit in my room and try to lay my notes right in with it.

Q.  What challenges do you still hope to master today?
A.
 As I've gotten older I've learned to recognize the body tension, especially in the shoulders, arms, and hands, that can creep in without being aware of it. I am much more aware of this when I practice now. Early on, as a teenager, I had no tension, but tension began to come in in my twenties. The more relaxed I am, the better I play.

Q.  Based on your professional experiences as a Banjo Player, what advice do you have for beginners?
A.
 Robert Capon wrote, "Mere facility, of course, is no more a guarantee of good taste in cooking than it is in music; but without it, nothing is possible at all. Technique must be acquired, and, with technique, a love of the very processes of cooking. No artist can work simply for results; he must also like the work of getting them. Not that there isn't a lot of drudgery in any art - and more in cooking than in most - but that if a man has never been pleasantly surprised at the way custard sets or flour thickens, there is not much hope of making a cook of him. Pastry and confectionary will remain forever beyond him, and he will probably never even be able to get gravy to come out the same way twice. Interest in results never conquers boredom with process."

I think this a crucial point. Love the thing itself. Be taken up with the thrill of the music, with listening to great players, with learning a new tune. We can't simply want results - that is, we can't merely want good timing, tone, and taste as a product and rush through the process trying to "get there"; we have to also enjoy the process of getting there.

Watch out for tension in the body, shoulders, arms, hands. Tension generally comes from fear of some sort - the idea, "This tune is going to be really hard to learn - maybe I don't have what it takes" can sometimes make a person tense up. The fear brings a desire to control the outcome, which produces tension, which puts a cap or lid on your ability to get better. To model this:

1.  This is going to be really hard. Maybe I'll mess it up. (Fear)
2.  I can't let that happen. I've got to do something. (Desire to control)
3.  The body tenses up to control the outcome. (Tension)
4.  I can't seem to get the speed or ease or dexterity to flow! (A cap or lid on your ability)

If you run this backwards it will help you learn a lot.

1.  I can't seem to get the speed or dexterity to flow. Why? Is there tension going on when I play this sequence of notes?

2.  I notice tension when I go from rolling my middle finger on the first string to my thumb on the fifth string. Let me slow it down and relax as I do it to retrain my hands.

3.  Am I trying to control the movement of my hands through tension? Or am I simply watching my hands and telling them to relax and play without tension? Am I trying to control my economy of motion by clenching muscles? Or by simply observing, and making subtle changes.

4.  I wonder why I am trying to control my hands so much. Am I believing this is too hard? Am I believing I don't have what it takes? Am I trying to hard to be good at this? Maybe I should relax and enjoy the process more.

Q.  Where do you see banjo music going and what is your role in that?
A.
 I do hope to see young people in bluegrass remain anchored, to love and appreciate the early pioneers of bluegrass and study what they did. We can see what happens if a tree is cut off from its roots with a chainsaw. It falls over. Maintaining a strong connection to what the music originally was is the only foundation for real innovation. In writing stories or poetry in English, only someone who deeply understands the language can innovate; only the lover of the language can invent new words, new phrases, new ideas put forth in fresh ways. Bluegrass is a language with a context, and when people take the instruments of bluegrass out of the context of what the music originally was, you don't have bluegrass; you have other kinds of music played on the instruments formerly known as bluegrass instruments. A six-string banjo strummed in a country band doth not bluegrass make.

The original founders of the music grew up in tradition. They loved tradition and learned from it. They listened to Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family, fiddle tunes at dances, blues, and all their local players. They were steeped in a tradition that affected their playing forever.

Having said that, another aspect of the original spirit of bluegrass is innovation. The founders of bluegrass grew up absorbing tradition and then after a time, though still loving tradition, they began to find their own voices - their own ways of playing things. They found new music to listen to - Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman - and for people like Crowe, 50's rock-and-roll.

So - love tradition. Eat tradition. Digest it. Know it. And then experiment. Listen to other music you love. Let those genres clash in you. I don't mean try to shove swing or rock licks into a bluegrass song. I mean find your own voice.

In my life, the love for the tradition - Jimmie Rodgers, Carter Family, Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, Reno & Smiley, and onward - was an all-consuming obsession for about five years where I listened to nothing else. But then I began to hear blues, jazz, Larry Carlton, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Pat Metheny, and other musicians, and all that music began to infuse itself into the bluegrass I play. It's possible to do that and still keep the original spirit of the music, to play appropriately and respect the music.

Q.  You have written numerous successful songs for AKUS, your own solo albums, and many other popular Artists. When you sit down to write for your own banjo projects, where do you draw your inspiration from? Have you provided a song to another banjo player that you intended for yourself?
A.
 No, I've not written for other banjo players so far.

I wrote the tunes on my latest, Hogan's House of Music, with varied sources of inspiration. Carter's Creek Pike was inspired by listening to a bunch of songs by the Carter Family. They're often so simple but so enjoyable and memorable. Mollie Catherine Carter was fostered by growing up listening to The Nashville Bluegrass Band, and wanting to compose a tune I'd love to have Stuart Duncan play on. I named it after my great-grandmother. Smartville - I think I just started by goofing off with some bluesy stuff, and then I suddenly played that opening statement and followed where it went. Hogan's House of Boogie is my envisioning what it would be like if Flatt & Scruggs and the Texas Troubadours accidentally got locked together into a room with their instruments. Calico is my nod to the California ghost town it's named after, where I played festivals as a teenager - and also to the Marty Robbins record, Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs. Songs like El Paso are part of my earliest memories.

Q.  You recently released two new albums "Hogan's House of Music" ( September 2015 ) and "Carter's Creek Christmas" ( November 2015 ), almost back-to-back and both instrumentals with plenty of banjo focus. Given the banjo's resurgence seen across multiple music genres, did you experience noticeable differences in how these projects have been received today versus 10, 20, 30 years ago?
A.
 Well, let me tell you, playing banjo in 1978 during high school in southern California wasn't exactly the most popular choice. I believe I was often seen as an oddity. "Why do you want to play the banjo? Wouldn't you rather play guitar? Guitar is more popular."

There is a noticeable difference now in how the banjo is perceived. Some of that began to change in the 1990s, but two of the biggest aspects, especially in the mainstream, were The Dixie Chicks and the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack. That said, I see a real hunger for rootedness in our culture; the continual use and abuse of technology and the continual newness and novelty seem to be driving some of that longing for tradition, the desire for something stable and rooted.

Q.  Did you feel differently about doing these projects today than you might have in the past?
A.
 I joined Alison Krauss & Union Station in 1991, and we were so busy, in those early years especially, that it was not really on my radar to do solo projects. I always thought of it as "our band," anyway, so at the time I was already getting my intense need for creativity met through that. I didn't come out with a solo project until 2000, and then another one in 2007, and then 2013, but these were more song-focused. I've been for so long a song-focused player and singer that I didn't really think of doing an all-instrumental record. I own instrumental records I've enjoyed for years, but didn't think much about doing my own. After making both Hogan's House of Music and Carter's Creek Christmas I feel differently now. I found the whole process of making those records highly enjoyable, so there will likely be more in the future.

Q.  You have been a band member of Alison Krauss and Union Station since 1991,you have an amazing list of notable album credits and solo accomplishments. As a highly successful professional musician and banjo player, what type of business advice can you offer to aspiring banjo players trying to navigate today's music industry?
A.
 It's smart for any musician these days to self-educate about the business aspects of music. There are a ton of resources out there, more than ever before; there are online classes, books, YouTube videos, and more for musicians who aspire to make a living at it. Study marketing; study booking; study whatever is necessary to help yourself get a leg up in the business end of it. The object is to make a living doing what you love. There is the doing of what you love, and then there is the intentionally making a living at it.

Q.  At this point in your banjo playing career, what work or event are you most proud of?
A.
 I've gotten to do a lot of great things in my career, both with AKUS and with other people. But in the end really what I've really got is the music I've made - with the band, on other records, and on my own recordings. Those questions - "Did I do my best, or close to it? Does it sound good? Was I happy with it at the time?" Those are all very important questions.

Q.  What other interests do you have?
A.
 My family is really important, of course. I tend to read a lot, everything from theology and fairy tales to historical novels, classic literature, books on music, philosophy, writing - lots of topics. I collect great quotes. I like shooting my bow, shooting guns, walking, making food, collecting rare books, photography, and, well, lots of other interesting things. I often get my love for traveling filled by band travel, in which I take lots of photos.

Ultimately, though, music is my job and my hobby. It is a lifelong fascination. Music is an infinitely interesting pursuit - the depth of it never ends. There is always more to learn, and there is so much great music in the world to hear I can't possibly ever get to it all.

Q.  Tell us something about yourself that you think our Community might enjoy.
A.
 I don't like liver and onions, and I am apt to end the life of any sort of undomesticated creature that enters my house unbidden by setting traps. 300 year-old stained glass in an Irish, Scottish, English, or European cathedral thrills me. Pure unroasted chocolate powder is a daily companion. I drink down greens blended with juice. I'm working on a book of banjo tabs for my record, Hogan's House of Music. Merle Haggard, Fernando Ortega, Kate Rusby, Ray Charles, Joni Mitchell, and Bonnie Raitt are six of my favorite singers. Chai tea is great. I have no opinions on brain surgery, the luge, caviar, or Stilton cheese. Speaking of cheese, I always liked the Monty Python Cheese Shop skit. My first car was a 1965 Ford Mustang; I was 16, and the coolness factor was severely mitigated in the eyes of my Southern California high school peers by wearing a banjo belt buckle. I've shot a rabid skunk. My favorite guitar microphone is the Neumann KM-54. Roy Nichols, George Shuffler, Larry Sparks, Clarence White, Tony Rice, Leon Rhodes, and Pat Metheny are seven of my guitar heroes. When I was a boy I fell into a creek more than once, and I had a G.I. Joe, and a rat. I'm a big fan of the Chronicles of Narnia. I used to waterski a lot. I've been six feet away from a Mohave Rattlesnake, and I'm still not a fan of neurotoxic snake venom. When I wake up in the middle of the night and can't sleep I read the Bible so my mind will stop chewing on its own leg. The movie The Martian The Martian was great fun.

Check Out This Artist's Band:

 alisonkrauss.com
 ronblock.com
 New Wine
 Weary Hearts

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Vilai Harrington

Vilai Harrington hails from a background as diverse as any.  His grandparents hail from the Carolinas, MidWest and Hawaii.  Growing up his musical interest were greatly shaped by his  Father, Grandfather and Mom's desire to shield him from the shallow lyrics of pop artists.  Therefore, the music he heard and learned to love were the sounds of Hank Willaims, Sr., Johnny Cash,  Buddy Holly, Otis Redding, Pete Seeger, the Beatles and other classic artists of the 50s. 60s, 70s, & 80s like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Dean Martin and Prince.  While the music spanned decades and genres, it had one thing in common....meaningful lyrics and true soul.  Growing up, Harrington always enjoyed singing but did not take naturally to instruments. He always loved them but felt out of reach. One day his grandmother came home with an old Sears-Roebuck banjo with only one string. The young boy was intrigued. The banjo was sold soon but the seed had been planted. Throughout high school, he played trumpet, bass guitar and an old ukulele of his dad's for school praise band with friends. After high school, Harrington was gifted his own banjo. He then started to look more at himself musically. Soon he was writing music and lyrics. Now based out of Greenville, SC. Vilai Harrington travels through the U.S. sharing his eclectic story through the eyes of a Clawhammer troubadour.

"Soul filled folk music with Appalachian roots. Some of your work reminds me of what church hymns would sound like if they were for mother earth." - Adams Mitchell; Co-founder and writer for Creases Zine

"Folk On! Aiken born folk musician Vilai Harrington has recently released a self titled album that carries with it the classic down to earth sound that has made Vilai known around the region. Opening with ‘The Hike’ and a lovely ballad called ‘Pour Life’ the album begins as Vilai did with humble roots from which a vibrant tree grows. The album crescendos and climaxes with a very toe tappin’ tune called ‘Saddle Back’. The album is a truly is a quarter-hour of raw folk emotion. Vilai’s picking style along with the way he sings across the melody creates a sound that is both minimalistic and room filling." - Rick Stahman; Co-founder and writer for Creases Zine

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The Banjo Reserve recently interviewed Vilai Harrington, here's what he had to say.

Q.  How did you learn the Banjo, and what method of learning do you feel is most effective?
A.
 I played ukulele when I was younger, when I got to the banjo I was already more familiar with open tuning. I tought myself banjo, I did look up the major scale, but other than that I learned by messing around on it and listening to other banjo players. I also surrounded myself with my friends who where all better than me.

Honestly, I think the best method of learning is to find the basics and then go off on your own and develop your own style. Take constructive criticism from your peers but do not lose your originality.

Q.  During the early stages of learning to play the Banjo, what did you find most challenging?
A.
 Finger roles have always been tough for me. I have always just naturally leaned towards clawhammer more than flat picking.

Q.  What challenges do you still hope to master today?
A.
 I would still like to progress more on my roles. I also have been trying to challenge myself to work on my complex licks that fill out my songs a little bit more. I tend to focus more on the lyrics when writing, but I want to make it where my banjo playing makes the words shine even more.

Q.  Where do you see banjo music going and what is your role in that?
A.
 I see that people accept the banjo as being good for more than just Bluegrass. Banjo is such a versatile instrument and there are so many artists out there that are rewriting what it means to be a banjo player. Earlier this year I had the pleasure of sharing a show with Mike Savino of Tall Tall Trees, a brilliant musician who has seen some of the potential in the instrument that most people have overlooked. I also see more people like myself playing a lot of their acts solo with just banjo and vocals. Most people would not think of the banjo as the instrument of choice for singer-songwriters, but some of us are changing that. I am not sure exactly what my role is, but I learn more about what it should be everyday.

Q.  What most inspires you to play?
A.
  It is a way for me to cut down on my screaming. Honestly, I am inspired by life to play and write. I am also inspired by all the other artists out there who are pouring their hearts out on stage. I remember when I was younger and my Uncle took me to the Newberry Opera House to see Ricky Skaggs, someone who has been doing it so long and is still building on what he has already accomplished. We all are still learning and we never fully mature, it is a constant progression and I find that fascinating.

Q.  What song(s) do you enjoy playing the most on your Banjo?
A.
 As an artist I have a hard time liking my own songs, but there are a few that I enjoy. One I enjoyed is one that David Garris Armstrong and I wrote together called “Highway or Interstate”. Another one I have liked is “Things to Come”, I wrote that about my great grandfather and his struggle with Schizophrenia and Alcoholism. I also like to play "Operator” by Jim Croce, that is just one of my favorite songs period.

Q.  Based on your professional experiences as a Banjo Player, what advice do you have for beginners?
A.
 Respect the classics but don’t let them define you, surround yourself with eclectic people, don’t be afraid of musicians that are “better” than you. Be bold, be full of grace and stay weird.

Q.  Where do you like to play the most?
A.
 I have growth from every show I play, but there are a few venues that have a special place in my heart. The first place to ever give me a chance to play was M.A.D. Studios, a small listening room in Augusta, Georgia. Stoney and Leslie have always treated me like family and I would have never been able to progress at the rate I have if it wasn’t for them. The Second is The Soul Bar which is also in Augusta, GA. Jayson is one of the most laid back venue owners and a chill drinking buddy. Dave and I never had a bad night there. The last one is a House Show Series in Charleston, SC called Pop-Up Charleston. Peter, Addie, Matt and Katie are super sweet people and always set up amazingly intimate shows.

As far as memorable shows go, one of the Shows I will always remember is when I opened for The Drifters in an indoor skate park. It was amazing sharing a stage with Mo-Town Legends. And being from South Carolina you have to enjoy any concert you can shag to. Shag means something a little different here, it is our state dance.

Q.  You mention that you play Clawgrass style, why did you decide on this style? Do you play other styles as well?
A.
 I just naturally leaned towards clawhammer, it was always fascinating to me because it is one of the oldest styles of banjo playing. Also, as a solo artist I am able to get a full sound, yet still allowed to add details that way. I do a little bit of picking as well. It is not my strong suite, but I still respect it and use it in some of my work as well.

Q.  Tell us about your new CD and any special projects that you might be involved in.
A.
 My Project Vilai to Garris will be release as a small EP in mid-November. I am very proud of what Dave and I were able to accomplish together in such a short length of time and I think that this EP will be a great representation of our common ground and friendship. In December I will be going on the ‘Very Very Merry” Tour with my good friends Von Strantz out of Indiana. While on this Tour I will be releasing my first full length Album “As the Sandhills Roll” under my solo project Vilai Harrington. The Release party for it will be on 12/13/2015 at Moe Joe Coffee & Music House in Greenville, SC. Tickets will be on sale soon and will be available on my social media accounts.

Q.  At this point in your banjo career, what work or event are you most proud of?
A.
 I am very proud of both of the releases that are coming out in the next few months. I feel like they will show my progression and personal growth. I am also proud of all the amazing souls I have been able to share the stage with, and the lifelong relationships that have come out of it. I met my roommates on the road about a year ago, now I consider them some of my best friends.

Q.  What other interests do you have?
A.
 I like to hike, fish, spend time with family and be outside. My mama always told me I had a green thumb. There is nothing more rewarding to me than putting your hands in the dirt and seeing the fruits of your labor on the dinner table. I also am a little bit of a history nerd and watch a good bit of documentaries.

Q.  Tell us something about yourself that you think our Community might enjoy.
A.
 I am human. I like to talk to other humans. I have a lot of random facts to share with you from a childhood of reading whole encyclopedia sets and watching the Discovery Channel and PBS. I like to give hugs and have been told I give good ones. And if you need something reached off the top shelf of the grocery store, I am your guy.

Vilai Harrington

Visit the TBR Shop for more Vilai Harrington music.

Check Out This Artist's Band:

Vilai Harrington  vilaiharrington.bandcamp.com
Vilai to Garris  facebook.com/VilaiToGarris

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Cia Cherryholmes

Cia began her banjo career with the internationally acclaimed Bluegrass family band Cherryholmes at the age of 16. Influenced by the stylings of banjo heroes like JD Crowe, Don Reno, Jason Burleson, and Jake Jenkins and mentored by Bluegrass King Jimmy Martin, she developed her own style blending the traditional hard driving approach with blues and honky-tonk. Recipient of the SPBGMA banjo player of the year award three years in a row, she has helped to pioneer the way for many young female banjoists and to bring playing while singing to the forefront. The Americana ensemble Songs of the Fall is her most current musical endeavor, blending traditional banjo with, delta blues, and mountain roots.

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Hugh "Booy" Finn

Hugh hails from a small town in the midlands of Ireland, Rathdowney, in the County of Laois. His family has long been soaked in traditional Irish music and folk, and he loves these roots and is very proud of them. The annual Finn family holiday was to the traditional Irish music festival of 'The Willie Clancy Festival' in Miltown Malbay and Spanish Point in the West coast of Clare. This is where his love for music started to bud. He began playing tin whistle, then received a fiddle for his eight birthday, continuing to play that till the age of 18. He still feels sorry for his fiddle to this day, as the banjo from then on completely took over his musical life. A banjo lay in tatters in the attic of his home throughout his childhood, and often he used to get it out and look and wonder how it plays or sounds. He could only ever wonder, as there was never any strings on it.

Eventually as he grew older he began to voice his desire to change from fiddle to the banjo, he had asked his parents could he get it fixed and the rest is history. It was a 1960s John Grey tenor banjo and it stood with him for the first years of his banjo life. He had eventually outplayed this old instrument to what it had to give, so he then bought his second, an Epiphone Mayfair 1930s tenor banjo. This banjo was the one he first started gigging with at many sessions and small gigs around the country. However, the instrument he has today and treasures, is an Irish built banjo by Dave Boyle, a legend luthier from Celbridge in Kildare. Also, along the way, he had gathered a few other banjos including two prewar Vega 'Little Wonder's. As the banjo did rule king, he also had some time to play most other four string instruments, like the tenor guitar, which is prominent on the new Na Fianna album 'Unearthed', mandolin, bouzouki, (both made by luthier Dave Shapiro), and then other instruments like the didgeridoo that took to his liking. His career in music really took off when he had lost his job due to the recession in Ireland, and this in turn had encouraged him to make his living playing banjo up in the Dublin Irish music scene and eventually finding his musical comfort with Na Fianna.

Banjo playing has always been core to his music and forever will be, but he then started to put pen to paper and started to delve in to the songwriting part of music. His manager Darren, of his current band 'Na Fianna' and previous band, 'Púca' had always said, in passing, that songwriting is a fantastic skill to try and very satisfactory. Hugh had taken that advise on board and wrote songs and once the first one was written and performed, the other ideas for songs all came flowing out. Hugh now has two songs on the current Na Fianna album 'Unearthed', which are Green Umbrella and Earth Song, and has co-written two others, with Don Mescal and the the other band members, Toora Loora Lay and Let Me Take You There.

His love for folk music and traditional Irish music has overcome all other rock bands he had listened to in the past. Bands he grew up with were Incubus, and Tool, but his main influences to his musical career are the likes of Gerry O'Connor, Cathal Hayden, Crooked Still, Dick Gaughan, Wally Page, Stan Rogers, Planxty, Sweeny's Men, The Clancy Brothers, Rig the Jig, Flook, David Francey, Bellowhead, and most good folk songwriters, sea shanties, and traditional tune players from across the world. Music is not the only thing that floats his boat, as he is a keen admirer of nature and the beautiful outdoor living this world has to offer, and would travel anywhere to view a nice scenery of mountains to the sea, whilst using them as his playground too.

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The Banjo Reserve recently interviewed Hugh Finn, here's what he had to say.

Q.  How did you learn the Banjo, and what method of learning do you feel is most effective?
A.
 I first taught myself, as the transition from the fiddle is not too different. I then bought a few beginner banjo tutor books and picked up small tips from each one. I also went to some banjo workshops throughout Ireland and again, picking up tips from accomplished players from each lesson. If I was to start again, I would get on-going lessons from a player that I admire.

Q.  During the early stages of learning to play the Banjo, what did you find most challenging?
A.
 I found my right hand technique the hardest. This is so important at the early stage. I used to find trebles and other ornamantation very hard until I reminded myself to slow down and concentrate on basics.

Q.  What challenges do you still hope to master today?
A.
 Well I hope to play complex hooks and tunes whilst singing. I have crosspicking and strumming pretty much done, but I want to do it all whilst singing. I also would like to write a new cult banjo song that people relate immediately to the banjo when it's heard.

Q.  Where do you see banjo music going and what is your role in that?
A.
 Banjos have surged in popularity here in Ireland in the past 20 years or so and I think it is growing for sure. I can hear banjo now in pop acts too all the time on radio. Banjo has become "cool" and rightfully so. I will try to make my own playing unique, accompanying songs with catchy licks and hooks and use this musical instrument to its fullest. Hopefully my role will modernise banjo playing and rock it in to the future.

Q.  What most inspires you to play?
A.
 I most enjoy playing "Star of the County Down", "Step It Out Mary", and "Earth Song", three songs featuring on Na Fianna's new album "Unearthed". The three songs differ, the first two need a lot of energy and drive with tunes blasting through them, while "Earth Song" needs a nice cool vibe with sweet hooks.

Q.  Based on your professional experiences as a Banjo Player, what advice do you have for beginners?
A.
 Keep it slow at first, if you try to play at speed quickly, you will develop bad habits and skip over notes. And, if you love playing banjo, it doesn't matter who you may think you should sound like, play your own style and let it shine through. Your way of playing suits you more, not someone elses. Gather other ideas and techniques, but apply them to your own playing. I also want to say, keep your banjo out on a stand where you most of your day. A banjo in a case will not improve your playing.

Q.  The Banjo is experiencing a resurgence here in the United States, crossing genres and gaining immense popularity with fans. Since joining Na Fianna in 2007, have you also experienced an increase in attention in Ireland / Europe, that you might attribute directly to the Banjo in your music?
A.
 There has definitely been a resurgence here in Ireland. If you go to a session in a pub, there could be more banjo players than fiddle players, and that is something unheard of years ago in sessions. The banjo can be played with a modern twist and this is important in its growth. I play my way and try to make it catchy, appealing, and modern. Hopefully it inspires someone to pick it up and play.

Q.  In your bio you tell us that your "music really took off" when you lost your job during Ireland's recession. What course do you imagine your musical career would be on had you not lost your job when you did? And how did the loss change your mental attitude toward your musical career?
A.
 When I lost my job, I travelled to Australia, and it was then I started meeting and playing with other musicians in small sessions in bars. And when I came back to Ireland, there was still no work, but I had a banjo. My brother had ventured in to the music scene in Dublin as a full time job, and this is definitely what I wanted to do. I had time to practise more and looked at the banjo as a weapon to make me a good life. If i hadn't lost my job, I would always play banjo but I may not have had the time to develop the way I have and I would never have dived in to the songwriting world either.

Q.  If given the choice to play any venue anywhere in the world what would it be, and why?
A.
 I've always dreamed of playing at the Red Rocks in Colorado. It's a sweet looking venue and it's open air out in the wild. When night falls and the place lights up them red rocks, nothing looks better. I had a DVD of Incubus playing there years ago and it looked pretty perfect.

Q.  At this point in your banjo career, what work or event are you most proud of?
A.
 I am most proud of our, Na Fianna's, album launch night of "Unearthed" in July 2015. It was a special night as other renowned banjo players and fellow musicians and were present in the audience. It all came together after many years of working hard, I had two of my own songs being played and bringing my banjo playing on to such a big stage was incredible for me. I have played banjo for years, but that night, I became a banjo player.

Q.  What other interests do you have?
A.
 I am an avid admirer of the wild and everything that makes it. I love preservation and care for our countryside and the beasts, big and small, that grace these lands. I have a great fondness towards badgers and wolves. The Willie Clancy Festival in County Clare is my pet love. It's an annual pilgrimage that friends and family go camping and playing music at each July. I also love watersports, like kayaking and swimming. Soccer will always be my favourite sport to play, and love others too like chess, Gaelic games, and golf.

Q.  Tell us something about yourself that you think our Community might enjoy.
A.
 I found a banjo in my attic, and now I play banjo for a living.

Unearthed

Na Fianna

Released 07/18/2015 > Unearthed
Released 07/18/2015 > Toora Loora Lay - Single
Released 02/10/2015 > The Stable Sessions
Released 04/02/2011 > Introducing Na Fianna (Live)
Released 11/14/2006 > Na Fianna & Murty Brennan Live - Murty Brennan

Check Out This Artist's Band:

Na Fianna ( 2007 - Present )  nafiannamusic.com
Huckleberry Jam ( 2013 - Present )  facebook.com/huckleberryJamIreland
Púca ( 2012 - 2014)  facebook.com/pucaofficialmusic

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Sharon Martinson

Born in the winter in the mountains of Wyoming, Sharon Martinson picked up the banjo first a young girl while on the front porch of her grandparent’s house. But she didn’t start playing it until nearly the end of her PhD studies, when it suddenly provided ample distraction from writing her thesis. Her ecology field project brought her to California, where she lived part-time in Santa Cruz and part-time in the Sierra Nevada, near her field sites. It was in the mountains that she happened upon an amazing cellist and they started the unlikely banjo-cello duo of The Littlest Birds, her current main musical outlet. She nests in the Sierra, but is more likely to be found migrating, anywhere else. She is often touring for music, sharing her soul with the world, and continues to study ecology, volunteering in countries near and far, sharing her brain (Dr. Martinson is a visiting scholar at Dartmouth College). Her unique banjo playing and hauntingly beautiful voice, innate grasp of traditional music and history of the banjo, as well as an unassuming yet powerful drive to forge ahead into uncharted musical and intellectual territories, have given her the ability to create a path of her own through this life, following none, and inspiring many.

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The Banjo Reserve recently interviewed Sharon Martinson, here's what she had to say.

Q.  How did you become interested in the Banjo?
A.
 My grandpa played the banjo, and during the summer when I was growing up, I would visit him in Nebraska. I remember summer evenings sitting on the front porch watching him play and listening to that sound, all the sounds of the insects in the trees, and watching his fingers pick the strings. I left home to go to college out on the east coast and when I started my PhD, he sent the banjo along with me, saying that he couldn't really play much anymore and that I'd need it sometime. I plunked around a bit on the banjo, but mostly it lived under my futon in a cardboard box. It wasn't until near the end of studies that I really heard clawhammer banjo ( Bruce Molsky ) and tried to figure out how to play that style. I took just a handful of lessons from two teachers, and then took off with my own style of playing.

Q.  Did your geographic area have any influence on your decision to play the banjo? If so, why?
A.
 I don't think that geography really influenced my decision to play the banjo ( except that being born in America does make that instrument choice far more likely ), but geography has surely influenced my playing. Although I grew up in WY and have just recently returned here, I've always been a wanderer, and my music is heavily influenced by many of the places I've lived. I recall listening to early records at home of cowboy & campfire songs. I grew up learning to sing and hear 4-part harmony with the gospel songs at church. I also spent many summer days out at the old Fort and sometimes they'd have reenactments complete with music of the pre-settlement days of the wild west. When I was living on the east coast, I fell in love with contra-dancing, and the music that accompanies it, and at the time when I was first learning banjo that is what I was listening to the most. For five of the years when I was back at school in New Hampshire and Vermont, I spent my summers living in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, and I spent as many evenings as I could, going out and catching the local sounds everywhere from little bars in Vicksburg to big concerts in Lafayette. I'd hear swamp rock, and blues, I learned to dance a good cajun two-step down in Mamou, and I know I picked up a dose of the southern US at that time. More recently, I've been living in the mountains of CA and spending winters in Patagonia ( Argentina ), so now shades of both of those beautiful places and their music come through me, too.

Q.  What Banjo style(s) do you play and which do you prefer the most?
A.
 I first taught myself 3-finger Scruggs type rolls, thinking that was the only way to play the banjo. But after I heard clawhammer and learned that, I prefer, and mostly play, that style.

Q.  How did you learn the Banjo, and what method of learning do you feel is most effective?
A.
 I picked up 3-finger picking from some books, and then when I decided I wanted to learn clawhammer, I thought I'd do the same. I went out and bought a book and struggled at it for awhile before I wrote to the author, asking where he lived and if I could have a lesson. He lived too far off to meet me, but introduced me to a woman who give me my first 3 lessons, out in the woods of New Hampshire. I took a few more from another instructor in San Francisco. For me, and for most people, it's especially beneficial to learn clawhammer by sitting down face-to-face with a person and watching and trying to get the basic rhythm down.

Q.  During the early stages of learning to play the Banjo what did you find most challenging?
A.
 The basic bum-ditty stroke of clawhammer was the hardest to get really smooth, and accurate. After that, it all came together for me!

Q.  What challenges do you still hope to master today?
A.
 I work on playing different solos than the ones that come easily and naturally to me. It's easy to play a lot of notes, and I think that the best phrases don't have nearly as many notes, but instead they have perfectly played and spaced notes, with silence and sound balancing each other.

Q.  Based on your personal experiences as a Banjo Player, what advice do you have for beginners?
A.
 Get the basic strum down before you try to do anything fancy. The best sounding string is an open one, so think about than when you're soloing, and silence is golden. Play fewer notes, and play them well.

Q.  Do you have a favorite Banjo make and model, and do you have a nickname for your banjo?
A.
 Just like picking a favorite song or child, I can't pick a favorite banjo, since it changes all the time. I've had banjos I didn't like, and which I couldn't get to sound good, but I don't have them anymore. My first banjo, was my grandpas, the old Washburn, and I just call it 'Grandpa' now. I have an equally old Nelson, and I call it 'Nelson' or 'Old Man'. My Recording King is sadly named 'Beater' since it's the one that goes on every international trip, and has been all over the world, left outside in the snow, roasted in the desert and still plays like a champ. My fretless is 'baby' maybe because it's a short neck or maybe because I got really attached to it right after I got it ( made by Seth Kimmel ). I used to live just up the road from Bob Thornburg and he gave me a gourd banjo, and it's name is simply, 'Gourd'.

Q.  Do you have a favorite Banjo Player(s) that is still active today?
A.
 I've been really enjoying the music of Pharis and Jason Romero, lately. Their new album, A Wanderer I'll Stay, is just fantastic.

Q.  Where do you see banjo music going and what is your role in that?
A.
 I have no idea, but I'm going to just keep playing whatever I want on my banjo and singing whatever songs I fancy. I've never felt like I play old-time music to keep it alive, but I do love playing old songs, playing them in my own way. And I love writing and playing my own songs, too, and sometimes those of other people. So I guess my roll will be to keep on playing!

Q.  What most inspires you to play?
A.
 Being an ecologist who works outside whenever I can, and a hiker/backpacker, too, I get most of my inspiration from the natural world. Secondly, events that happen in my life or circumstances I witness, also inspire me.

Q.  What venue(s) do you enjoy playing the most and why?
A.
 Festivals and House concerts. The thrill of seeing thousands of people enjoying music is equal with being able to meet and watch the faces of people in an intimate space, as they soak in not just the music, but also the whole experience.

Q.  What Band(s) are you currently a member?
A.
 Right now, I'm only performing with The Littlest Birds, where I both sing and play banjo (and occasionally, French horn or piano or bones).

Q.  What Band(s) were you a member of in the past?
A.
 When I first started playing a picked with a few bands that have split and reformed into new musical configurations like "Oil Beads In Water". In New Hampshire I played (very poorly) in a bluegrass band called "One Fish, Two Fish". In Oregon, I learned a lot more about singing and playing with an all-ladies group, "Musica Chica", and in Santa Cruz, our Arabic/Sephardic/Folk group was called, "Fretless". For about two years I was the banjo half of "Sittin' on the Fence", and I spent the summers playing a local farmer's market with my friend (on fiddle), performing mostly old-time tunes.

Q.  What Recording Label(s) are you currently with?
A.
 We self-recorded, financed and released all three of our albums.

Q.  What genre(s) are you most associated with?
A.
 Old-time, New Folk, Americana, Mountain Music.

Q.  What awards or recognition have you received for playing the Banjo?
A.
 I don't suppose many people know who I am or that I play the banjo. While I'm not one inclined to compete, I did record a waltz I wrote, Tonopah Waltz, for a Banjo Hangout Old-time waltz contest, and I got 2nd place, so I guess some other people enjoyed it, even though I did it with the most terrible mic built into my laptop! Music is such a personal thing. I don't really want to be judged for it. I should hope that I, also, always appreciate that people are expressing themselves through music, even if it's not something I would enjoy. I've had a lot of people come up to me and smile and say they really enjoyed my playing and that's more than enough, because I enjoy it, and that's why I do it!.

Q.  What other interests do you have?
A.
 I spend part of my time doing ecology research, and maintain a position as a visiting scholar at Dartmouth College. In the past, I've also done research for Oregon State University, University of Santa Cruz, California and University of Wyoming. While performing with my banjo is my first love, I have a very analytical mind that will never be completely satisfied unless I'm also doing science. I love spending time in the high country, and backpacking without seeing anyone for days on end. I take care of my mind and body through running, yoga, nordic skiing. I love cooking, mostly India and Thai food ( even went to cooking school in Thailand ), and while I do most things in silence, I listen to music when I cook. I also adore my veggie and wild flower gardens, my honey bees, and my worm ranch.

Q.  Tell us something about yourself that you think our Community might enjoy.
A.
  1. I had my daughter my second year of college, and she's amazing! I think my favorite part of touring is when she, aka Petit Bird, is on the road with us. She really steals the show!
2. I do most all of the maintenance on the tour car.
3. I want to design and build a house with net zero energy, using mostly recycled materials. Someday. I hope.

Live & Lucky

The Littlest Birds

Released 06/08/2014 > Live & Lucky
Released 10/14/2011 > Migrations
Released 10/21/2010 > The Littlest Birds

Check Out This Artist's Band:

 littlestbirds.net

2014 Banjo Babes Calendar

  banjobabescalendar.com

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Christopher Holland

An avid fan of folk and bluegrass music, Christopher Holland found his love for the banjo in 2005 while studying music theory at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania.

Holland grew up in the small, quaint town of Jim Thorpe, PA, and was influenced by his father and older sister to first pick up the guitar at the age of 14. After a few years of playing cover songs, spanning an eclectic collection of musicians from Jerry Garcia to John Prine, and everyone in between, he wanted to explore the genre of classical music and learn more advanced playing methods and build a deeper knowledge of composition and theory.

After high school, he went on to pursue an undergraduate degree in professional writing and communications at Kutztown, where he declared a minor in music performance with a concentration in classical guitar under the instruction of Grammy award-winning guitarist, Dr. David Cullen. He spent two years in the program and performed relentlessly with his sister who was a flutist and music education major at the same university.

During his undergraduate studies, Holland built a strong right hand and fingerpicking techniques and fell in love with the sound of the banjo after attending a few local bluegrass festivals and concerts. It didn’t take long for him to become passionate about the instrument and was heavily influenced by Béla Fleck’s album ‘Perpetual Motion’ which features classical compositions performed on banjo. From there, his love for the instrument continued to grow. Some of his biggest influences today are Béla Fleck, Noam Pikelny, Earl Scruggs, John Hartford, and Pete Seeger.

After graduating college, Holland relocated to Allentown, PA, where he met a few other folk/bluegrass musicians and formed what is now today an original stringed quintet called The Boiled Owls. The band is comprised of five-string banjo, upright bass, mandolin, and two Martin guitars.

Over the past few years the band has been making a strong presence in the festival circuit and more, playing relentlessly throughout eastern Pennsylvania and beyond.

Some of its most notable accomplishments have been performing with musicians including Sam Bush, Railroad Earth, Yarn, Cabinet, and many more.

The Boiled Owls released its self-titled EP in February 2015 and have been busy booking shows and continue to build a strong reputation in the folk, bluegrass and Americana scene. In the fall of 2015, the band will be back in the studio to record a full-length album that will be released in late winter/early spring. The Boiled Owls’ music, touring schedule and more can be found at theboiledowls.com.

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The Banjo Reserve recently interviewed Christopher Holland and here's what he had to say:

Q.  How did you learn the Banjo, and what method of learning do you feel is most effective?
For example, online via Skype, self-teach using books and web, live instructor, etc.

A.  I took a few lessons after I got my first banjo to get an idea of what it was all about but, I already had a strong knowledge of music theory and then kind of just branched out on my own. I've used a lot of books for learning and practicing scales and rolls, but a lot of times I learn things from ear. Some videos can be helpful too but, I think playing with other musicians is the best way to learn new things.

Q.  During the early stages of learning to play the Banjo, what did you find most challenging?

A.  I think the most challenging part in the beginning was simply adapting to a new instrument. After playing guitar for so many years it took a little while to get used to playing in a new tuning. I've always felt comfortable finger picking, but using finger picks was a whole new experience! That took a bit of time to get associated with, but now I couldn't imagine playing without them. I even use a thumb pick a lot now when playing guitar.

Q.  What challenges do you still hope to master today?

A.  That's a really tough question because the answer can go on forever. There are SO many things that I still can and want to learn, and that's the beauty of it all. You can play an instrument your entire life, but there's always going to be new and exciting challenges along the way. While you might become proficient, there's always going to be room for improvement and growth.... Regardless of what instrument you play.

Q.  Where do you see banjo music going and what is your role in that?

A.  I think it's incredible to see so many more bands these days incorporating banjos into their music. Over the past two decades or so, the folk scene has really taken off again, and in a very positive and exciting way. It's not just about being a singer/songwriter or playing traditional songs anymore. It's grown into so much more and it's so great to see bands like Yonder Mountain and others alike that helped take it to the next level. There's a lot of jam band elements in a lot of contemporary folk music, and I love hearing that 10-minute jam coming from a string band. It keeps things fresh while not forgetting where the roots stem from.

I think with The Boiled Owls we sort of blend the traditional with the contemporary sound. A lot of our songs definitely have the singer/songwriter element, but backed by a full string band that adds so much to the simplicity of a good, well-written song. I think we have really good control of not pushing our sound beyond our limits and staying true to that Americana sound that comes from a time way before us. We like originality and not pushing the envelope. We don't want to be that band that gets "compared to" or "sounds like" another. What we do comes from the heart, and as much as we do want people to enjoy it, we know we're doing what we do because it's what we love and makes us who were are. If people get on board with it, it's immensely gratifying.

Q.  What most inspires you to play?
( for example, hearing some music, a place you visit, certain weather, etc. ).

A.  It's hard to pinpoint an exact moment or thing that gives me inspiration. It can come from a lot of different things and experiences at the most random times. I think certainly a lot of it comes from the people that you surround yourself with and the environment that you put yourself in. It can change, and it definitely influences your approach to writing music. I think a lot of times when listening to one of our songs you can sort of envision the place, time and mood one of us was in when writing. I think the music speaks for the insight in which it came from.

Q.  What song(s) do you enjoy playing the most on your Banjo?

A.  I love playing our original songs the most, because it's something that we've collaboratively created and it just has a special place in my heart. I like playing a few traditional songs once in a while, and I also love the interesting cover songs that we choose to play, which range from A-Ha! to the Talking Heads. Sometimes we pick the most unsuspecting cover songs and say "This is awesome!" And those usually go over really well with the audience, too.

Q.  Do you have a favorite Banjo make and model?

A.  I love the tone and playability of a Gibson RB-250 Mastertone. I’ve always wanted one, and someday will own one…once I allocate the funds! Right now I play a Fender FB59 which has a very warm tone with a walnut resonator. I think it’s a great sound for the style of music that we play. I also really enjoy Huber banjos. They’re top-notch, American-made banjos that have a great sound and are all handmade. I’m definitely going to consider getting one of those in the future as well.

Q.  Based on your personal experience as a Banjo player, what advice do you have for beginners?

A.  I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to practice. The banjo is a whole different world when compared to guitar, and it can be really intimidating at first. Don’t get intimidated if it’s extremely challenging at first. Like with anything else, whether it be playing sports or learning a trade, getting better come with hard work, dedication and practice. Once you get over those first hurdles and start getting comfortable with the instrument, the opportunities are predominantly endless.

Q.  What venue(s) do you enjoy playing the most and why?

A.  I love playing smaller venues, especially as the opening act for national touring bands. I've had a lot of fun over the years playing at festivals, but something about the intimacy of a theater makes the playing experience a lot more special. We've been fortunate and had the opportunity to open for Sam Bush, Railroad Earth, Yarn, and many others. That's where our main focus is and I think we're going to have a lot more fun in the coming months and years.

Q.  How has your classical music education influence your banjo playing technique?

A.  First, studying classical guitar provided me a strong education in understanding music theory and reading sheet music. That in itself opens a whole new door in any musician’s playing. Second, building a strong right hand in finger picking technique really made the transition to the banjo a whole lot easier. I can definitely see the influence of the classical sound in my playing. One song in particular that I hear that in is,‘Minor Swing’ by Django Reinhardt which is in D minor. When I play that tune, I incorporate a lot of a classical style into it and it gives it a twist that you don’t often hear from a banjo. I like keeping things tasteful and always trying to incorporate different styles and genres into what I play.

Q.  At this point in your banjo playing career, what work or event are you most proud of?

A.  Playing with The Boiled Owls has so far been in the best experience of my life as a musician. I’m extremely grateful to be able to play with such talented musicians, who have grown to be some of my closest friends. Looking back to a few years ago it’s hard to fathom how I got by without these guys. Their playing abilities are incredible and the songwriting is more than impressive. I’m very thankful to be surrounded by these guys. I can’t wait to see what our future entails.

My proudest moment with the band thus far has been opening for Sam Bush at the Mauch Chunk Opera House in Jim Thorpe, PA. Sam has been one of my biggest influences in music for a number of years, and when we were given that opportunity I was extremely ecstatic. I remember sitting backstage with Sam while he shared stories about hanging out with Tony Rice and Alison Krauss. Some of the things he said I almost couldn’t believe! He’s a very eccentric man and had us all laughing hysterically. He treated us like we were his friends, and that’s something I’ll never forget. We’d be stoked to meet him again, and maybe even get him out on stage for a song or two!

Q.  What other interests do you have?

A.  I’m a man of many hobbies. I’m an avid golfer and love doing anything nature related: hiking, camping, mountain biking, etc. Growing up in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania I was very fortunate to have all of these amenities at my fingertips. I used to travel throughout the tristate area (PA, NJ, NY) playing in amateur golf tournaments. I was an assistant golf professional at a few different private country clubs throughout the years and at one point was even enrolled in the PGA program. I have a college degree and journalism and by my mid-20’s I really found my focus and decided that’s the direction in which I wanted my career to go. I’m now an editorial assistant at a magazine and love it! I still golf almost every weekend.

I’m also an amateur photographer and take my camera with me pretty much everywhere I go. I love doing landscape photography and shooting starlapses at night. I have an art studio where I specialize in print photography and custom framing. It’s sort of a side business, but more for my own pleasure.

One thing that I’m very proud of is being on the Board of Directors for a charitable foundation called Mauch Chunk Charity Foundation. Each year we host a few different events, from golf outings to Halloween parties, to raise money and awareness for a multitude of organizations. So far this year we’ve raised thousands of dollars for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and are working on our next event which will benefit the Autism Society of America. It’s so gratifying to help others, and I look forward to all the future fundraising that we’ll do. It truly makes a difference and to know that I can help make an impact on the lives of so many is worth more than anything in the world.

Q.  Tell us something about yourself that you think our Community might enjoy.

A.  Hmm, for being an avid folk and bluegrass musician, you’d probably never guess that my favorite band is Phish!

The Boiled Owls

The Boiled Owls

Released 02/18/2015 > The Boiled Owls

Music Platforms

 theboiledowls.bandcamp.com
 reverbnation.com/theboiledowls

Check Out This Artist's Bands:

 theboiledowls.com

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Sean Patrick

Sean Patrick is a vocalist and banjo player for The Griddle Pickers. The group originated in the summer of 2012, when Sean was invited to participate in Orillia's annual Arts for Peace rally. He assembled a family band comprised of his brother Dale Patrick, girlfriend Sarah Bea Milner, and her father Mike Milner. Realizing their potential as a band, the group formed The Griddle Pickers early in 2013, and have gone on to play various events in central Ontario, including Orillia's Canada Day Celebration and Washagofest.

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April 13, 2015 - The Banjo Reserve recently interviewed Sean Patrick, here's what he had to say.

Q.  WHERE WERE YOU BORN AND RAISED?
A.  Orillia, Ontario, Canada.

Q.  WHERE DO YOU CALL HOME NOW?
A.  Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.

Q.  DID YOUR GEOGRAPHIC AREA HAVE ANY INFLUENCE ON YOUR DECISION TO PLAY THE BANJO?
A.  There is definitely an appreciation for bluegrass and old-time music in my hometown of Orillia, and I was lucky to find a lot of very supportive people who encouraged and inspired me to play.

Q.  HOW DID YOU BECOME INTERESTED IN THE BANJO?
A.  My grandfather gave me his banjo and said that he wanted me to learn to play it. I had grown up listening to old-time and bluegrass music whenever I visited my grandparents, but at the time when I was given the banjo I wasn't really listening to any banjo music. I began searching the Internet for music to listen to and play. I quickly discovered the clawhammer style from Patrick Costello's youtube video and was very inspired by the music from the movie, O Brother Where Art Thou?

Q.  WHAT BANJO STYLE(S) DO YOU PLAY, WHICH DO YOU PREFER THE MAOST AND WHY?
A.  I love the clawhammer style. It really helped me with my rhythm when I first started playing. It's a very complete musical package and approach to playing music that incorporates rhythm, percussion, and melody. I find that style easier to sing over as well. I also play three finger styles. I really enjoy the melodic styles that Bill Keith helped to develop. I've been seriously working on my Scruggs style picking lately while studying with Emory Lester, who has passed down a lot of great tunes and knowledge that has really changed the way I play. The scruggs style stuff works really well in a band setting. When I play live, I tend to switch between clawhammer and three finger a lot. I also like to experiment with a metal slide sometimes to fill out the sound.

Q.  HOW DID YOU LEARN THE BANJO AND WHAT METHOD OF LEARNING DO YOU FEEL IS MOST EFFECTIVE?
A.  I've learned a lot of clawhammer technique from Patrick Costello's youtube videos. Patrick has been very influential with my outlook on music and life. He is an incredibly positive guy who plays from the heart and I highly recommend his videos, ( www.youtube.com/user/Dobro33H ). I've also learned from instructional books. Ken Perlman's books on clawhammer banjo have been very helpful. The influence and support of my whole family, especially my parents and both sets of grandparents, has been really crucial to my development as a musician. Taking lessons is great; unfortunately when I first started I was unable to find a teacher. Ultimately I'm still learning everyday. In my opinion, the best way to get better is to get out and play with others.

Q.  DURING THE EARLY STAGES OF LEARNING TO PLAY THE BANJO, WHAT DID YOU FIND MOST CHALLENGING?
A.  Rhythm has always been a challenge. Bluegrass music plays with rhythm in interesting ways. There is a lot of push and pull and fast tempos that take time to get the feel for.

Q.  WHAT CHALLENGES DO YOU STILL HOPE TO MASTER TODAY?
A.  I'm always working on my rhythm and feel. My goals are to play more freely and naturally.

Q.  WHERE DO YOU SEE BANJO MUSIC GOING AND WHAT IS YOUR ROLE IN THAT?
A.  With guys like Béla Fleck elevating things to such a high level, I think we're going to be hearing more musically sophisticated banjo going into the future. The popularity of the banjo seems to be on the rise and I don't see that slowing down anytime soon. As a banjo player, I will continue to spread the good news that the banjo is a wonderful sounding instrument with a lot to offer the world of music beyond the stereotypes and cliches.

Q.  WHAT MOST INSPIRES YOU TO PLAY?
A.  I think it's simply a love of music that to inspires me to play, but it's also seeing the effect that music has on people.

Q.  WHAT SONG(S) DO YOU ENJOY PLAYING MOST ON YOUR BANJO?
A.
 Wild Bill Jones, Red-Hired Boy, Cripple Creek, Devil's Dream

Q.  IS THERE A SPECIFIC BANJO PLAYER OR BAND THAT HAS INFLUENCED YOU THE MOST?
A.  Ralph Stanley, Bela Fleck, Bill Keith, Emory Lester.

Q.  WHAT GENRE(S) ARE YOU MOST ASSOCIATED WITH?
A.  Bluegrass, Old-time, Acoustic

Q.  WHAT VENUE(S) DO YOU ENJOY PLAYING THE MOST AND WHY?
A.  Jam sessions and open mics are great. Performing live is nice but I always enjoy just relaxing and playing with others in a casual setting. Campfire jams are among my favorites.

Q.  WHAT BAND(S) ARE YOU CURRENTLY A MEMBER?
A.  The Griddle Pickers, Awesome Revelation, Chris Thompson.

Q.  DO YOU ALSO SING OR PLAY ANY OTHER INSTRUMENTS IN THIS BAND(S)?
A.  I play banjo and sing. I've also done acoustic and electric guitar, bass, and fiddle with a few of these groups.

Q.  WHAT BAND(S) WERE YOU A MEMBER OF IN THE PAST?
A.  The Barley Juice String Band

Q.  DO YOU ALSO SING OR PLAY ANY OTHER INSTRUMENTS IN THIS BAND?
A.  I play banjo in all, and attempt backup vocals from time to time in The Morning After and Barefoot/Acoustic Manner.

Q.  DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE BANJO MAKE AND MODEL?
A.  I currently play my grandfather's Ibenez Artist Series from the mid 70's. I haven't had an opportunity to seriously play many other banjos, but I would love to get a Deering open back someday.

Q.  DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE BANJO PLAYER(S) THAT IS STILL ACTIVE TODAY
A.  Ralph Stanley is one of my favorites. It's amazing to see him still out at his age.

Q.  BASED ON YOUR PERSONAL EXPERIENCES AS A BANJO PLAYER, WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR BEGINNERS?
A.  Learning to play the banjo is all well and good, but focus on playing music rather than just your instrument. Go jam with people, anybody on any instrument, in any style, just have fun. Learn the banjo's place in the music relative to the other musicians, and respect everyone's musical space. Work on listening and pay attention to every member of the band. Learn to play and sing. It will build your coordination and really make the music come alive.

Q.  WHAT OTHER INTERESTS DO YOU HAVE?
A.  I'm also a Graphic Designer and Artist. I run a company called the No Son Of Mine Design Co. that specializes in working with musicians and the entertainment industry.

TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF THAT YOU THINK OUR COMMUNITY MIGHT ENJOY.
Before I got into playing bluegrass, I was a guitarist and vocalist in a metal band. I still listen to a ton of metal which has a huge influence on my playing.

The Griddle Pickers

Released 07/03/2015 > Wrong Time - EP

Check Out This Artist's Bands:

The Griddle Pickers
 Awesome Revelation
 Chris Thompson
 The Barley Juice String Band

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