I got back from the remote Hawaiian island of Kauai a few days ago (with a truly excellent stop over in Toronto on my way home – see previous post from April, 2017, “I Heart Canada”) and when I stepped outside from the train from the airport in Toronto and breathed in that cool winter air I felt like I was home again. So I’m finally back for more than a day or two and I’ll catch you up on everything:
– Highlights from Kauai
– Highlights from Banjo Gathering
– Highlights from Lovestruck Balladeers Tour
– New Videos
– Upcoming Stuff
– Book Report
HIGHLIGHTS FROM KAUAI
So, Kauai. It’s an interesting place. In terms of the landscape and plant life it was sort of an Alice in Wonderland experience for me. Dramatically beautiful views everywhere you look, avocado, mango, citrus, passionfruit (“lilikoi” in Hawaiian), coconut, papaya, and even more kinds of fruit trees growing everywhere, no predators or fearsome creatures anywhere unless you count the ubiquitous roosters. (I heard about these giant venomous centipedes but luckily never saw one.) So it was delightful and disconcerting at the same time.
The festival was a blast. I got to hang and play with my Foghorn Stringband pals as well as Austin and Courtney Derryberry, Cajun Country Revival, and a number of other good friends, and I got to meet a bunch of great new friends as well. Hearing some traditional Hawaiian music in person for the first time was fantastic. And playing Mauna Loa, Joe Morley’s banjo tribute to Hawaiian music, during a solo set at the festival was a particular honor and a treat for me.
After the festival I stuck around for another week and got to meet some more local musicians and hear some great music, especially Doug & Sandy McMaster’s traditional slack key guitar concert. I did some busking at the Hanapepe Art Night, had a jam at the uke shop, spent Thanksgiving on an organic farm with amazing new friends and incredible food, ate lots and lots of amazing foods, and oh yeah I even tried surfing one day! I got a lot of inspiration from this visit and hope to return to Kauai some day.
I just have to say something about the Banjo Gathering, which took place in Bristol, VA/TN, at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum just before I went to Hawaii. It was a small gathering of banjo fanatics who got together mainly for show and tell with their awesome banjo collections and for semi-academic style presentations on a range of banjo-related topics.
Michael Wright presented on the topic of Influence of the 5-String Banjo on Early Hawaiian Music, which I found especially interesting as I was about to go to Hawaii. The ukulele is Hawaii’s instrument but it is not particularly ancient, and the case can be made that the 5-string banjo played a part in the development of the uke. Many mysteries there, but very fun to think about. Also, early Hawaiian string band music is amazing!
I also liked a presentation by Christian Stanfield (of the Side Street Steppers) called Late 19th Century Banjo Antecedents in Early 20th Century Popular Music, in which he demonstrated, using a pair of Gramophones and a beautiful collection of original 78’s, the influence of early fingerstyle, or “classic” style banjo in early recordings of country and old time music, including recordings of Uncle Dave Macon and Dock Boggs playing in the older “classic” style of fingerpicking as opposed to the more “primitive” or “down-home” or “old timey” styles they were known for, showing that, as professionals, they played whatever the public or the record companies told them to play, but as musicians they were capable of much more.
Speaking of Uncle Dave, his great-grandson was there and gave two presentations about his life and times in support of the newly published biography he’d written. It’s on my list of books to read!
There were so many wonderful presentations as well as a concert which I was so honored to be a part of, and I won’t go on to describe all of them. But the most impressive had to have been Kristina Gaddy’s work in Suriname on the mind-blowing possible origin of the word Banjo and its meaning. I won’t go into it all here but it is truly fascinating, and her presentation with her partner banjo maker Pete Ross was a thrilling detective adventure story. I hope she is able to continue her research and get it all down in book form (or graphic novel, or documentary film, or whatever form) for the rest of us to enjoy again and again.
Have I gushed enough about this band already? I don’t know if I have. Touring with them was such a dream come true and I feel that we are destined for great things. It’s so rare to find a group of musicians who are all on the same page the way I feel that this group is. The music we are playing is at times sublimely beautiful, challenging, and wild fun. We’re planning to record our first album in the spring and we should have some live videos from our tour ready to share in the next month or so. Stay tuned!
There’s been a deluge of new videos since I last wrote but I will list them all here anyway.
Here’s my new solo show promo video — Send it on to any venues where you’d want to see me play.
And here are a few banjo pieces recorded in Ann Arbor at the studio of my friend Jay Lapp:
I have a couple weeks at home, finally! I’m going to practice music every day and not think too much about anything else. I’m working on Joe Morley banjo pieces and basic violin technique, scales, etudes, Lovestruck Balladeers repertoire, as well as random music I need to learn for some Christmas gigs. Ah, see below!
Saturday, Dec 15 – PRISM’s 2018 Winter Concert, at the Royal Oak Music Theater. PreGlow at 6:30, curtain at 7:30.
Sunday, Dec 16 – St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Utica, 5:30pm Christmas concert including small orchestra, choir, and handbell choir!!
And then I don’t have anything going on until 2019, when my first gig will be a
Detroit Square Dance Society SQUARE DANCE at the Gaelic Leage featuring special guest caller Sean Fen and special guest fiddler/banjer Caleb Powers, both from Ohio. Kyle Rhodes on guitar and Rachel Pearson on bass. Yours Truly on fiddle and banjo. Potluck 6:30, dance 7-10. No partner needed, all dances taught, $10 suggested donation, All are welcome. Here’s the FB event.
Saturday, Jan 19 – I play duo with Caleb Powers for the Appalachian Acoustic Music Weekend at the Mohican Lodge and Conference Center in Perrysburg, OH.
Wednesday, Jan 30 – Corn Potato Duo (Lewis/Belcher) at The Local in Toronto, 9-12
Feb 1-14 – Home Routes Tour in Yukon with Corn Potato Duo (Lewis/Belcher)
Thursday, Feb 21 – Ida, MI, Blues 2019: An Evening with Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton wsg Aaron Jonah Lewis – I’m opening for the incredible Mr. Paxton, well worth the drive anywhere in MI! 7-9pm, FREE
March 22-23 – Baltimore Old Time Festival w/Corn Potato String Band
and then in late March and early April I’ll be with Lovestruck Balladeers again, rehearsing, recording and playing a few shows including
Saturday, Apr 6 – Brooklyn Folk Festival w/Lovestruck Balladeers
Many more exciting things are in the works but I’m going to wait until they’re confirmed to report them to you. You can always stay on top of my schedule by checking my website calendar. Hope to see you out there somewhere soon!
I always forget about which books I’ve read as soon as I’ve read them. But I did finish reading Aku-Aku, by Thor Heyerdahl, and I enjoyed it immensely. Mysteries of Easter Island revealed! And that’s about all the books I’ve finished, so that was kind of a fake book report. Sorry.
I hope you are having a wonderful start to your winter time. Enjoy the cold while you can!