Banjopalooza Awaits

Warmest Greetings,

I write to you from self-isolation due to recent contact I had with someone who tested positive for Covid. I just got my test results back — negative — but I was advised to self-isolate all the same. Please be careful — Even if you’ve had both doses (I’ve had one so far) you can still spread the virus. We are so close to beating this thing, let’s see it through to the end and keep everyone safe so we can once again enjoy live music and dancing!

In this newsletter I have a few exciting items for you:

Bandcamp Friday is April 6!
Fiddle Tunes at Centrum
Oh No. Oh No. Oh No No No No No — I Have a TikTok…
Tunes from the Bag
Picky Fingers Theme Music
and a Book Report

Bandcamp Friday is April 6!
By now you know the meaning of “Bandcamp Friday” — It’s the one day a month the benevolent overlords at Bandcamp allow us pathetic artists to keep 100% of the donations our fans contribute. (Any other day they take 15% although it’s not clear to me how that works because I’ll get a notification from Bandcamp saying someone downloaded an album and paid $20, and then I’ll get a message from PayPal saying I got $13.85…)

In any case, save the date and on Friday, April 6, please buy my music from Bandcamp! This month’s featured album is Square Peg Rounders, Galax, NYC – — Such a magical series of events led to the making of this album:

My dear old pals Sam Guthridge, Erica Weiss, and I had just discovered the beautiful sounds we were capable of making as a trio at Galax in 2012. I was living in Berlin at the time, Erica in Boston and Sam in Maryland but the stars aligned such that we could get together in a recording studio in NYC for four hours before I had to get on a plane back to Germany.

In that short time we got this album recorded and I’m so glad we were able to do it. The feeling of this album to me is totally relaxed to the point of wild freedom, just on that edge of coherence you can touch when you’re in the zone of pure creative play.

I have few to zero concerts coming up, but I am very excited to appear at the online version of Fiddle Tunes (formerly known as the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes) July 2-5. I’m teaching a banjo class in four one-hour sessions and playing a concert as well. Here’s the class description I submitted (it should probably be edited):

BANJOPALOOZA – A Deep Dive into Five-String Banjo Styles and History
Join Aaron Jonah Lewis in this wide-ranging survey of banjos and banjo music as he plays show-and-tell in four hour-long sessions. Lewis has been playing banjo for about 20 years, and in that time he has picked up gigs playing clawhammer in square dance bands, Scruggs-style (and Reno-style and Keith-style) banjo in bluegrass bands, plectrum-style five-string banjo in early jazz bands, fretless resonator banjo in a Turkish fusion band, and let’s not forget free improvisation. These days he is obsessed with the tradition of classic fingerstyle banjo (akin to ragtime) that dates back over a hundred years. Lewis says he’s no scholar, but he attends the Banjo Gathering and ABF rallies, where he rubs shoulders with knowledgeable amateurs and professional academics, soaking up arcane banjo lore, and now he is excited to share the depth of banjo music and history with you. Bring your banjos, questions and obsessions, it’s bound to be a wild ride. No experience necessary.

and here‘s where you can register for class, concerts or both. Just take a look and see who else is teaching! It’s an honor for me to be in their company.

Oh No. Oh No. Oh No No No No No — I Have a TikTok
If you’re not on TikTok already, PLEASE DON’T DO IT. It is unbelievably addictive. I could go on about the pros and cons but my short statement is that it will result in you spending even more time looking at your phone than you already are. You may think you’re getting ‘connected’ to an online ‘community’ but you are just becoming more separated from the real people and real places around you.

If you are already a part of this monstrous social media platform then you can find me there, too. Here’s a link to my profile. I’m not proud of it, and I’m not sure how long I’ll keep at it, I’m just trying it out… I think the idea is to share a more ‘real’ and less ‘perfect’ version of yourself than you would on Instagram or Facebook, so that’s what I’m going with.

The series continues! I don’t know what the most recent ones were but you can find them all here. And if you want to find out about new ones before anyone else it’s easy to become a Patreon supporter for as little as $3 a month — Just click here. I am really enjoying this series and plan to continue for a long time. Do you like it, too? Let me know, I’m open to feedback. This party is just getting started!

I recently had the honor of joining an all-star recording lineup (recording remotely) for the Picky Fingers Banjo Podcast theme music. Keith Billik, who created the podcast and hosts and produces, also wrote the music. I play fiddle on it. You can hear it here. Bluegrass! And in case you haven’t heard the Picky Fingers episode about Yours Truly, there’s a link to it right here.

Book Report
I had the pleasure of getting away to a secret locale ‘up north’ with my sweetie Grace a few weeks ago where I did a little skiing (which I hadn’t tried in over 20 years — no injuries!) but mostly played with fire (wood stove), cooked, and read books.

I’ll start with a book I read before the trip: Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories From Social Justice Movements, edited by Walidah Imarisha and adrienne maree brown. It’s been a while since I read any fiction, let alone short stories, and I had forgotten how much I love short stories, especially an anthology such as this one, in which each story is written by a different author.

I hadn’t read any Octavia Butler prior to reading this, but I don’t think it’s necessary. (I am reading Parable of the Sower now.) Each story is different but they all take place in some future world where, well, things are different. I liked some stories more than others, as I expect you would, too. The big surprise for me was reading a story by Tunde Olaniran, whose music I love (If you’ve never heard of him, check him out.) His was one of my favorite stories, and I had no idea he was such a talented writer, in addition to everything else he does. (Really, check him out.) Highly recommended.

Then I read Watership Down, by Richard Adams, a classic I had never read. I loved it so much! Ah, it’s such a gorgeous and moving book and it’s all about rabbits. Early on, I was like, Wait, is this a book about communism? I don’t know, I think you could read any number of interpretations into it but I didn’t get any sort of preachy vibe from this book. It’s about survival and fellowship, and it’s about knowing what you’re fighting for. As a bonus, you can learn some words in the native language of rabbits. It was beautifully written and surprisingly moving. Highly recommended.
The other book I read while I was up north is called Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, by James Nestor. Back to nonfiction. I did not love the style in which this book was written, that sort of “Look at what a cool person I am” style kind of rubs me the wrong way. BUT the material this book covers is absolutely essential and fascinating, it was compelling and easy to read and understand, and I have to admit it has had a lasting impact on me. If your taste is like mine then prepare to be mildly annoyed by the author’s tone once in a while, but aside from that I still have to recommend this book highly as well.
The last book I finished was a very short one, just about 100 pages, called We Still Here: Pandemic, Policing, Protest, and Possibility, by Marc Lamont Hill. This book was published in November of 2020, and you can guess what it covers. It takes the form of an extended interview, and it’s just so relevant to this current moment in history and it is extremely concise. More than any other book that relates to our present situation, I want people to read this one because I think it is so approachable and easy to understand. At least for me it was.
Signing Off
I am so grateful and lucky to be able to keep in touch with you, and I’m also very lucky and grateful to be able to self-isolate in a comfortable and safe space. I hope you are staying safe and well — If you need some cheering up feel free to contact me directly and I will gladly play some music for you or tell you a joke.

Faithfully and Banjovially as ever,