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Author Topic: Banjo Collector's Gathering 2010  (Read 2411 times)

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Offline DanceGypsy

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Banjo Collector's Gathering 2010
« on: November 10, 2010, 08:27:16 AM »
The Banjo Collector's Gathering began about 12 or 15 years ago and has met annually every year since it began.  The three founding members are Peter Szego, Jim Bollman and Hank Schwartz, and the Gathering focuses on banjos and banjo ephemera from the 19th and early-20th century (minstrel and classic banjos).  In years past this has been an invitation-only event, but this year they cast a wider net and I was able to attend.  It was held in Nashville, Tennessee, at the historic Wyndham Union Station Hotel this past weekend, and I travelled with Tommy George of Somerville, TN and Clarke Buehling of Fayetteville, AR.

Some of the banjos displayed and/or offered for sale included a Boucher banjo from the early 1850's (about 40 or so of these are known to exist), which had a price tag of $15,000.  Saw lots of Coles and Fairbanks banjos, as well as some really nice minstrel banjos.  Modern builders Kevin Enoch and Doug Unger were present, and in my opinion these two guys are at the top of the trade, doing carving and engraving work that rivals or surpasses the classic-era masters.

Of more interest to Weenies, Tony Thomas of Miami, Florida, presented a lecture on Gus Cannon and Black Banjos Styles, the text of which will appear in a forthcoming book edited by Bob Winans and published by (I believe) the University of Indiana (or Illinois) Press.  Tony argued that Gus should be considered more of a classic-style banjoist than a blues player, given the way he picked the banjo.  Tony has identified numerous right hand styles Gus applied to the banjo, which included down-stroking (clawhammer); two-finger, three, four and five-finger (in the latter of which Gus used his pinky to tremolo the strings); what Gus called "tenor" style, in which he strummed the four long strings but not the short fifth string; what Gus called "5-String," in which he strummed across all five stings; and finally lap/slide style, which he used on "Poor Boy, Long Way From Home."  Tony played excerpts or entire pieces to illustrate where and how Gus applied these different styles, and by using Gus in the context of his life as an example he made some broad statements about early-20th Century black banjo styles and influences.

One of the treats of the weekend was that George Gruhn had the lot of us to his shop on Broadway after hours on Saturday, and after munching on the shrimps, veggie trays, etc. that were provided downstairs, he took us all upstairs and turned us loose in his private collection.  I got a great video of me playing on Uncle Dave Macon's banjo, and I held and played several Gibson F-model mandolins from the second floor sale stock that had price tags greater than the value of my home, car and instruments combined.  There was a pair of Nick Lucas Specials that had me drooling as well.  Surprisingly, there were more banjos than guitars in George's personal collection.

The entire weekend was well spent and well enjoyed, and I am well on my way to learning to play classic banjo pieces.  I am currently leaning the Spanish Fandango, and it is interesting to hear the echoes of the classic pieces in the country blues of Mississippi John Hurt et al.  I feel like I am really getting a sense in how all of this came together, from the field hollers and hammer songs to the spirituals to the classic, ragtime and coon songs - I can see the lines converging from all of these points melding together into the country blues, and I believe this is making me a better musician and appreciator of the blues.

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Banjo Collector's Gathering 2010
« Reply #1 on: November 10, 2010, 08:58:39 AM »
Sounds like enormous fun, totally jealous, thanks for the report. I'll be curious to read Tony Thomas's Gus Cannon article.

And now you really need to post that video of you playing Uncle Dave's banjo.

Offline blueshome

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Re: Banjo Collector's Gathering 2010
« Reply #2 on: November 10, 2010, 09:09:56 AM »
If only we'd had the coordinates to target the missile - so many banjoes, so little time. Did sound fun though.

Offline dj

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Re: Banjo Collector's Gathering 2010
« Reply #3 on: November 10, 2010, 09:25:23 AM »
Wow, sounds great!  And it fits right in with the music I've been listening to this week (see my post in CDs/sets you've been listening to).  Wish I could have been there.

Offline Pan

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Re: Banjo Collector's Gathering 2010
« Reply #4 on: November 10, 2010, 09:32:58 AM »
Great stuff! Sounds like a weekend well spent indeed!

Thanks for sharing!

Cheers

Pan

Offline Gumbo

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Re: Banjo Collector's Gathering 2010
« Reply #5 on: March 24, 2011, 06:49:36 PM »
Sounds like enormous fun, totally jealous, thanks for the report. I'll be curious to read Tony Thomas's Gus Cannon article.

And now you really need to post that video of you playing Uncle Dave's banjo.

you might have spotted this link over in the Gus Cannon lyrics thread but it seems pertinent to post it here, too.

Tony Thomas led discussion of Gus Cannon at the banjo hangout

Tags: Gus Cannon banjo 
 


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