Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Does anybody think there is any money to be made in this small and precious corner of the musical world we occupy?

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Depends.... This could be a conversation to have at the AEBG. 

I'm reminded of what Garrison Keillor once said about singing in choirs. "No one gets into it for the wrong reasons". 

Since all the money is in the first five frets, I'm afraid were out of luck.

It depends on your booking agent and the general state of the economy.

Money?  Why, there's TENS of dollars to be made in this music!  I suspect if you record period music properly played, it might sell at re enactments, where folks appreciate the correct music for the setting.  Of course they couldn't listen to it there, unless they hid in their tent and used headphones, but they could listen at home. etc. When someone's cell phone rings at Rendezvous, they get all manner of teasing about their "Pocket Noise." It don't happen often, and I haven't seen anyone forget to turn it off a second time. You would have to package it so it didn't look out of period. Wrap the CD boxes in paper.  Or maybe deer skin, though that would be expensive.


There's gotta be something beyond reenactments. Does it fit anywhere in the folk music scene when framed properly. People don't always need the history lesson with it.   

We play music of this era in modern song circles which are primarily folk in nature.  Generally, the music is well received.  However, there is no money there.  We also play for veteran's groups.  Once again, the music is well received, but no money. 


The best opportunities outside of reenacting are playing for libraries, and organizations interested in historic music.  Incorporating the music into an understanding of history creates interest.  Those who are going to the banjo gathering next month may hear about some of this in a certain someone's talk.... ;-)

Does anybody not dress up to do this stuff? Or edit the material enough to present it without overexplaining what it is? 

When playing in folk circles (not for profit) I don't dress up.  Otherwise, dressing up helps to set the stage, and even adds to people's curiosity.  We do edit the material so it is presentable when there is no time or opportunity to talk about some of the issues of the music.  Depending on the venue we also may choose not to use songs that would require long explanations, or that could be misunderstood.

My boy, Dan and his buddy Ryan, a member here, mix up minstrel music, mountain music, sea shanties and Celtic tunes into a big whoppin' American hootenanny NOT of the Hee Haw variety. People take to it naturally and nobody seems to have the "I've never heard that before" syndrome. It's because they play it so well. And I'm sure if they did all minstrel music it would go over just as well. Now this is a particular town I'm talking about, Bay City, where they promote new and different AND historical anything.

There could be a few options to explore.

You could start building banjos and write a book on how to play "Early Style" banjo.  It seems to help if you bad mouth other builders and tell people that they are just in it for the money... but not you.

You could release the Briggs' and Converse "Yellow" books in tab, then follow it up with a larger book.  For this project it might help to interview some key historians and collectors, then tell people that you didn't.

You could could convince a importer of banjos to carry a Tim Twiss signature banjo made overseas.  It will need to be pretty much something that they already import, with some small changes.  The down side is that you'd be stuck playing a chinese banjo instead of the great ones you already have.

You could have an Builder of banjos burn your name on the headstock of their "entry level" banjo.  Pair it with your CD and a tab book of the same, then mark the price up.

But... the most effective way in my mind would to just claim that you are doing something new.  Come up with a name for it, I don't know, "Great Lakes Style" or something.  No matter what, keep claiming that what you play is a different "style."  Don't change your name and pretend like you never played stroke banjo,  just keep insisting that what you do is different.  Then get a music publisher to publish your "new" instruction book.  Remember, it is a new style-- drawing on tradition.  You'll still be playing the same stuff, but you will invent new terms for the "licks."

Extensive and lonely touring.  A new town every night.  Most shows in bars with 10 drunks that don't care.  Uncertainty of your next meal.  Getting stiffed by club owners.  Running out of money and busking for gas and car repairs.  Just start in your twenties so that you can get established in the music industry so that in your 50s you don't have to keep endlessly traveling for no money.

I'll keep my 9-5 and enjoy playing music.

Oh Joel. You've such a gift for sarcasm. I suppose one could also have a website selling tailpieces and thimbles and touting them as the "only way to get “that old time sound.”

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