Béla Fleck Approves

As my friend AJ Srubas (of Steam Machine — check em out!) recently reminded me, silence is complicity — I need to speak out, so in addition to the usual charming updates about my life and work, I include in this newsletter some resources for being a better ally to oppressed people, especially here in the US. If you feel as disturbed and distraught as I do about the recent murders of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Ahmad Arbery in Atlanta you can scroll straight to the bottom of this message and find a few links to resources for taking action.


In this email I have for you:
– Upcoming Shows?
– Bandcamp Day Friday, June 5
– Non-Story About Bela Fleck
– Why Patreon?
– Book Report
– Resources for Being an Ally


Upcoming Shows?
I’m playing a short online set on June 5 from 3-3:30pm EDT as part of an online festival to support the Stag & Hounds, a well-loved music venue I’ve played many times in Bristol, UK. To see my set and more just follow this link on June 5. The event link with more info is here and the direct link to their crowdfunding page is here.


June 14 I will meet with some wonderful musicians in northwest Ohio (including pals Paul Kovac, David Mayfield, and Andrew Bonnis) and perform a live streaming concert while maintaining appropriate social distancing. I do not have a link to share at this time so stay tuned and check my website for details.


While I’m out there I will teach a workshop or two at the GAR Hall in Peninsula, OH, and I may also be playing some sort of bluegrass gospel concert in a church the morning of the live stream but again, I don’t have any more info than that right now. I should wait to send this until I have that info but I felt like I should share the links at the bottom of this newsletter as soon as possible.


Bandcamp Day Friday, June 5
The last Bandcamp day was pretty good for me, I sold a couple of downloads, which was really nice. This time around I challenge you to share some of these links with three of your music loving friends. Post them to your social media profiles, send a text, or even send a download as a gift!


I relied on CDBaby since 2005 to sell my physical CDs and downloads, and they have now shut down their online store. Bandcamp is the only other option I know, and they take a bigger cut. BUT on Friday, June 5, they are giving up their cut to give 100% of sales to artists.


Save the date – Friday, June 5 is the day to buy stuff on Bandcamp!
Here are the links to my music on Bandcamp (including some previously unavailable for download! Marked with a *):
*You Bring Out The Hamster In Me, by Joe Troop and Aaron Jonah Lewis
*LIVE, Mostly, by Aaron Jonah Lewis and Ben Belcher
*Sounds of Mount Desert Island – FIFTEEN full-length albums of phonography (ambient field recordings)
All of these links take you to free streaming, some of them are free to download (pay what you like) and others have a minimum donation. I’m only sharing the stuff I’m most proud of so I’d love for you to check some of this work out.


Non-Story About Béla Fleck
I got a message recently about a project I recorded on over ten years ago, which is now being released on Smithsonian Folkways Recordings and I had to sign some paperwork. I wrote back asking if I could find out more about how to get an album on Folkways and included a digital copy of Mozart of the Banjo. It turned out the person handling this project is Béla Fleck’s manager, and she offered to share it with him. She told me he said “It’s cool stuff” and that I could share that, so there you go!


But seriously, I do hope to meet him and do banjo things together some day. Maybe enough people will get interested in classic banjo he’ll have to consider hiring me to teach at his banjo camp…!


Why Patreon?
I really waffled about starting a Patreon page for a long time but now I’m really glad I did. I’ve been sharing a lot of fun, exclusive content (audio and video, mostly, so far) and interacting with my patrons, and it’s been great. I just want you to know that for the price of a cup of coffee you can join this circle of supporters and enjoy the music lessons and tunes I’ve been sharing. Not sure? Try it out and see for yourself, you can always unsubscribe.


Book Report – Read Sand Talk
I did more reading than usual since my last newsletter but I’ll try not to go on too long about it. First of all, I have to recommend this book more strongly than I’ve ever recommended any book so far — Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World, by Tyson Yunkaporta is an absolute must-read for anyone who has ever wondered what the hell is going on here.


Civilized people have always enjoyed the privilege of examining and explaining indigenous culture on their own terms. Yunkaporta turns the tables by looking at civilization from an indigenous perspective and he just nails it.


Some of the things in this book are things I’ve thought about for years and never heard anyone else talk about. It’s highly informative, very readable and very compelling. Of extra special interest to practicioners of old time or blues or any kind of folk or traditional music or dance or craft, or who is engaged in any kind of oral transmission of traditional culture. This book raised so many questions for me that I’m rereading it and taking notes this time.


After I burned through Sand Talk the first time, I read this book that had been sent to me in the mail by someone on this email list (Thanks, Jen!) called Hill of Beans: Coming of Age in the Last Days of the Old South, by John Snyder, and it’s a memoir about the author’s childhood in North Carolina.


This book was written well enough and the material interesting enough to me for it to be enjoyable but after reading Sand Talk it was a bit like walking through the art museum’s exhibits of folk art, outsider art and indigenous art, and then coming to a room full of Norman Rockwell paintings.


No disrespect to Rockwell or to John Snyder, Hill of Beans is much less cring-worthy than I had worried it might be, but it was hard to switch perspective so drastically from the oppressed indigenous viewpoint to that of a privileged white boy who has to look out for snakes when he goes blackberry picking. Still, the author is sympathetic and honest, I enjoyed the challenge of finding common threads between the two books, and his descriptions of a bygone era are worth exploring.


I also read Watchmen, a graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, which I found highly enjoyable. I’d recommend it for sure if you’re looking for an escape from constant consumption of nonfiction. It’s more or less a long comic book in the action-adventure style with a bit of mystery, and it’s done to the highest quality. It inspired me to order some more graphic novels!


Finally, I have been occasionally reading a chapter or two at a time from Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do, by Studs Terkel. This book is a vast compilation of verbatim interviews with people from all walks of life, collected in the 1960’s and early 70’s, and it’s surprising how honest people are with him. It only breaks my heart to read how aware people were then of the problems we are still facing today and how little has changed in over 50 years.


Coincidentally, the last time I opened the book up was just after I’d heard about the murder of George Floyd, and the two chapters ahead of me were both stories from policemen. I love this book for the opportunity it gives me to relate to the interview subjects, the workers. I find something I have in common with almost every one of them, from CEO to prostitute. These interviews are well worth reading. Highly recommended.

Before I sign off I want to give you Just a Very Few links for being a better ally:



Resources for Being an Ally
This short article is a great place to start: For Our White Friends Desiring To Be Allies


Donating any amount of money is another way to help. Here is a direct link for donating to Black Lives Matter


This Google Doc is a more complete list of resources, including articles, videos, podcasts, and organizations to follow. I’m worried this email is already too long but please take a look at the Google Doc and consider sharing it. We have a lot of work to do, all of us.


I hope you are staying well and look forward to seeing you again soon.