Now I know that for some folks when they hear the word, “banjo,” they immediately think of the movie Deliverance. For me personally, that is the furthest thing from my mind when I hear the melody of a five string banjo.
There are a number of well-known banjo players; some are even considered virtuosos. The great Earl Scruggs, Pete Seeger or June Carter all come to mind. Bela Fleck, Gillian Welch and Tony Trischka all know the pleasure a banjo brings. Though I have sincere respect for their contributions to the world of music, in general, what fascinates me most is the role the banjo continues to play in rural music for average musicians and their neighbors.
Few things are as enjoyable as a warm summer evening in which the crickets are singing along with a banjo. The cold winter months seem a little more bearable when the entire family can sing and dance to a little live music. In an age in which technology strives to rule there is still a simple and profound pleasure within the ability to pick up an instrument and play a few tunes on your front porch.
In our neck of the woods we have the Vorshtein Music Festival, heading into its ninth year. Family and friends gather for a day of music and fun. It’s free to the public. Grandparents, parents and children all enjoy the wide open space of Mother Nature and listen to local musicians. If they are lucky enough they catch a little banjo as well.
You see, a banjo is a working man or woman’s instrument. It is happy to have you pick it up with dirt under your nails and mud on your clothes just as long as you play a couple of chords with some feeling. It is an instrument that blends perfectly with the nasally harmonies of Mom and Pop as they sing old call-and-response tunes with just the one instrument on a knee.
You don’t need to be a musical genius to play, though some folks certainly are. It is not a rich man’s instrument; it belongs in small towns where neighbors still greet one another in the morning. Its song is from yesteryear but still sings about tomorrow. No one hears the word, “banjo” and thinks concrete jungle. They think about fields of corn and a job well done. Chickens and woodpiles by the shed, tractors and silos. They think about family together in song. They think of the simple things in life, the moments that can only be captured by the high pitched yodel of a five-string banjo.
I would like to leave you with one of my favorites, “So I Say Run” by Pine Siskin. Enjoy!