Banjo Banjo!

Posted on October 22, 2008 – 3:17 PM | by OldManFoster
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Banjo players: It’s safe to come out of the closet and start tuning up. The California Banjo Gathering is happening right here in Sacramento, October 17-19 at the Doubletree Hotel off Arden. This event seems so cool, even to me who only accepted this writing assignment in order to stick it to Dennis Yudt (see opposite page) and cause him to LOSE the review duel. Dennis had been my friend for many years, but due to a recent public snubbing at Queen of Sheba restaurant on Broadway (August 27th, 1pm, Dennis!) our friendship has died and been replaced with cold hatred.

Peggy SegarBut that is neither here nor there, because the more I have learned about the California Banjo Gathering, the more my heart has softened not only towards Dennis, but towards humanity in general. Why? Because it’s super-cool.  My interest in this event started when I learned that Mike Seeger was coming to town, for three days, to give workshops. Yep, Mike Seeger, brother to Peggy Seeger (also coming!) and half brother to famous musical activist Pete Seeger, is coming to town. Maybe you haven’t heard of Mike– he’s more behind the scenes, a song catcher type.  He is an amazing picker, an expert on American rural music, was in the Lost City Ramblers with Hazel Dickens and most importantly, a man who recorded “Great Green Globs of Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts” for posterity, bless him.

Needing more information, I started looking up the workshop leaders on youtube. Here is where a strong warning is in order: spending 12 hours procrastinating by watching banjo videos online may lead to a madness for banjo music that may only be cured by spending massive amounts of time and money scouring through the folk sections of both Records and R5 at 16th and Broadway.

My best new acquisition was a 1979 release on Folkways by the charming Peggy Seeger Different Therefore Equal which is jam packed with feminist ditties. One listen to “Lady, What do you do all day?” and I am in love.

Unfortunately I don’t have the cash to buy all the banjo music I want, so I resort to the internet, and the more I see the more I like. The festival is cut up into 5 instruction periods and several jam sessions. Each attendant can schedule workshops with five of the ten available instructors slash geniuses, first come first served, I assume.

The 10 talented banjo players include Mike and Peggy Seeger, of course, and then there is Mick Moloney who is an Irish picker and professor of folklore, Sammy Shelor from the Lonesome River Band who has a banjo named after him. While he is very good and bluegrassy as hell, I was a little disappointed when I realized he wasn’t in the Little River Band, but that just my age showing. Clarke Buehling plays old time, minstrel style banjo and Walt Koken’s video just shows sweet slow picking; he may be the one I am most looking forward to seeing in concert. I cannot quite describe his style, but he is based out of Bristol, TN and I think we all know what that means. There’s banjo great Bill Keith who invented the “melodic style” or the “Keith style” which you may not know is one of the top three banjo styles today. I sure as hell didn’t. There’s Buddy Wachter – he is an everythingist. Seemingly, he can play anything, going from a quick turkeytrot to a Spanish style in a heartbeat, weaving them together tightly. If there is such a thing as banjo jazz than this is they guy who is playing it. Tim Weed plays classical banjo music, which is obviously awesome; he is described in the program as “cutting edge.” I can actually picture him picking in the corner of a Spanish restaurant while I am eating tapas. That’s weird, right? Finally, there is Gordy Ohlinger a comedic banjo-ologist. That’s the good news.

Here’s the bad news. All of this banjo joy doesn’t come cheap. It’s $549 for the 3 day gathering. I know, a little steep, but it does include all of your meals, meals that can be eaten with other banjo enthusiasts. Meals with people who never, ever tell the joke “What’s the difference between a banjo and a trampoline? You don’t have to take off your shoes to jump on a banjo.” I think it would be well worth it for banjo enthusiasts, but for dilettantes like myself, I recommend the Sunday concert for a manageable $35. The concert is on Sunday from 2- 5 pm in the Doubletree Grand Ballroo, you can buy pre-sale tickets at

Jerks like Dennis Yudt need not apply.

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