A+ A A-

Danny Barnes

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.


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.


Todd Taylor

Todd “Banjoman” Taylor first fell in love with the banjo at just six years old. While on a family trip to Walt Disney World, Todd's parents, James and Nancy, realized he had wandered off. After a frantic search they found Todd on a steamboat ride -- mesmerized by the music of the banjo per- former. His mom finally gave in to his pleadings and purchased his first banjo from a JCPenny cata- log the following Christmas. Since then, Todd has enjoyed a music career spanning three dec- ades. As a teenager and young adult, he and his twin brother performed on the Grand Ole Opry with music legends Roy Acuff and Bill Monroe, and TV shows like Hee-Haw and Regis and Kathy Lee. Todd may be best known for using his unique style to elevate the banjo from the con- fines of bluegrass to build a bridge into all genres of music, especially rock 'n' roll. He was the first solo banjo musician featured on the Rick Dees Weekly Top 40 internationally-syndicated radio program in the 1980’s for his groundbreaking arrangement and performance of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird.” Although Todd has donated his time to various worthwhile charities during his career, the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) has a special place in his heart. In his twenties, Todd became increasingly ill and almost lost his life. Extensive testing revealed he had inherited a mitochondrial disease from his mother, and despite his doctor's diagnosis, he was determined to recover. He performed on the MDA telethon with Jerry Lewis on more than one occa- sion; increasing awareness of the disease and helping to raise funds for the organization's tireless efforts. In 2007, Todd was the first to set the Guinness World Record for Fastest Banjo by perform- ing both parts of “Dueling Banjos” at a mind-blowing 210 beats per minute! He dedicated his record to everyone who struggles to overcome a disease or obstacle in their life. 2011 produced Todd's rock 'n' blues tablature book, Pickin’ Over the Speed Limit, and a feature in the documentary Breaking and Entering, highlighting his Guinness World Record achievement. He has earned doz- ens of Grammy nominations over the past decade in multiple categories, from original song compo- sition to producing. Todd’s eighth and latest CD, Indescribable, earned six Grammy nominations -- most of them attributed to his performance of "Bach Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major,” accompanied by Thornton Cline on cello and long-time friend Mike Moody on bass. But the pinnacle of his career came in 2012 when Governor Nikki Haley presented Todd with the Order of the Palmetto, the high- est civilian honor in South Carolina, for his inspiring personal example and musical contribution to his home state. Todd says, "My life has been blessed in so many ways, and I have no plans to stop sharing the gift God has given me."


Jesse Langlais

Jesse Langlais grew up in the rural town of Old Town, Maine where he first discovered his passion for banjo, bluegrass and working with his hands. At 19, Jesse picked up the banjo and took lessons from Bill Smith, founder of the successful Bluegrass Supply Company band. In 2001, with determined interest in pursuing a music career, Jesse moved to Asheville, NC, calling western North Carolina home for the past 15 years.

Jesse's hard work paid off in Asheville, he plays banjo, provides vocals and songwriting for the award-winning group Town Mountain, a high-energy bluegrass band. Jesse has always been interested in the history of music, with musical taste across the board that you can hear reflected in his banjo playing style.

As important as music is in Jesse's life, he has other passions. A carpenter by trade, he still picks up jobs from time-to-time, more recently completing a full interior remodel on a home he and his fiancee purchased.

Town Mountain (left to right): Phil Barker (Mandolin, Vocals), Jesse Langlais (Banjo, Vocals), Bobby Britt (Fiddle), Robert Greer (Vocals, Guitar), (not in photo) Adam Chaffins (Bass).


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


Mark Johnson

Mark Johnson has revolutionized the art of clawhammer banjo by adapting its techniques and rhythms to the demands of playing in a bluegrass ensemble. He calls his banjo style Clawgrass. He has performed and recorded with many bluegrass and acoustic luminaries on the music scene today and is also a gifted teacher and songwriter. His second recording -- Acoustic Rising with Emory Lester, released on the Crossroads / Mountain Home Record Label -- was nominated by the International Bluegrass Music Association ( IBMA ) in 2007 as Instrumental Album of the Year. Mark's music was used in the 2012 Dodge Grand Caravan television commercial and in September of 2012, Mark was named as the third annual winner of the prestegious Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass Music Award and has performed his clawhammer banjo style on the Late Show with David Letterman. Mark has conducted countless Clawgrass/Clawhammer workshops at bluegrass and acoustic music festivals across the country, has hosted the annual clawhammer banjo workshop as part of the IBMA Fanfest in Nashville, Tennessee, and will be appearing at IBMA 2015 Clawhammer banjo workshops in Raleigh, NC September 2015.


Hank Smith

Hank Smith started playing banjo when he was 16 in his hometown of Florence, SC after begging his parents to get him one for Christmas. More than twenty years later, he’s still at it and going strong.

Subscribe to this RSS feed