Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

I thought it would be interesting to hear what each other is working on right now, minstrel/earlybanjo-wise. 

Building or buying something?  Learning a new tune or working on new technique?  Playing with others, or preparing for a minstrel era band gig?  Reading a good book or listening to some good audio?  Going on an earlybanjo-related adventure? 

What are YOU up to this week?- we're nosy and we wanna know!    =8-)

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Sadly, I haven't been playing as much as I used to.  Lots of other things to keep me busy, including a soon-to-be two year old son.  I've been looking outside of Birgg's to Converse and Rice still wanting to keep as antebellum and Civil War years as I can.  It's just where my interests lie the the most as a reenactor of the era. 

 

I took ym banjo with me out to Ft. Delaware (where I worked years ago) to a reenactor weekend they put on.  Little did I know there would be a brass band, a minstrel group and a fife and drum!  Needless to say, the fort was full of all worts of music.  When one of the minstrel group spotted my banjo, I handed it to him to look over, with which came a "this doesn't have any frets!".  Modern instruments were pretty much their bag, playing "Civil War era" tunes.   

Needless to say, the fort was full of all worts of music.

Well, you said it!   lol

  

Haha!  Apparently I'm learning from some guy named "Birggs" as well! 

August 31 and September 1 is the Metamora Music Festival, in Metamora, IN, a stop on the old Whitewater canal system.  The state restored about a mile of canal back in the '40's, and a horse drawn canal boat takes "flatlanders" up and down the canal several times a day.

I went to the festival last year for the first time (it's where I was challenged to build a banjo, which ultimately led me to this talented company :)  ), had a great time, and am going back for seconds!  There will be several banjo players there (don't know if any play minstrel or fretless, though), and I'll be watching them a lot closer than I did last time!

Tony

Anthony, sounds wonderful!    Maybe you should learn to play Boatman's Dance for the occasion?   :)

Brian and i were asked by our village mayor to play informally at the county fair this weekend.  You see, the mayor of our village (where the fair is held) is a friend of ours and he makes engraved flintlock long rifles, and he sets up a booth in the Ye Olde Blacksmith Shoppe- a working balcksmith shop demo where a real blacksmith friend will be working too.  Also yet another friend of ours who is a metal worker who makes 14th century clocks will be demo-ing there..  It's a nice area there with a reproduction of an old general store and farm machines too, and they thought it'd be nice to have us there playing fiddle/banjo for part of sunday and monday.  Just friends together sitting in the shade, no pay but free passes to the fair and no 'performance' pressure.  This is a test though, since there will be a small stage not too far away that may have a small amplified band or singer...so we'll have to see if there's a sound conflict.  We can play under pretty loud noise, but they'll have the sound system, not us.   ;)   We could always sneak off to some other spot out of the way, but it'd be nice to stay with our friends in the blacksmith shop and that great setting.  We'll be adaptable and see how it goes!

I'm dismantling the first gourd banjo I made back in 1991, so I can increase the head size (I had originally made it to resemble a gourd banjo I saw in an old painting with a small head, but that doesn't really sound very good), give it a braced head, and improve the action.  It will be really good to have a backup, and this one has more of an official early banjo look to it--regular friction pegs in the usual spots, etc.  I'm still gluing the head though.

Paul are you using the same gourd and cutting the hole bigger, to increase the skinhead surface size?

Take pictures of the process and post it in its own thread or album!  

On Sunday I played my first ever SOLO gig at the local diner where I usually play old-time stuff every week with a fiddler.  As the partner was out of town, I decided to go it alone with my Hartel-Boucher as an exercise in confidence building.  It's a very low pressure venue -- people are more focused on their omelets and coffee than the guy playing weird tunes on a weird banjo -- just right for boosting confidence and "practicing" my early banjo repertoire in public.  I gave them an hour of hit tunes from the 1850s and '60s, and then another hour of my favorite old-time banjo/fiddle tunes.  One gentleman (a regular) came up afterwards very curious about my banjo.  He told me that when I took it out of the case, he knew they "were in for something completely different".  True enough!  Made $40 in tips!

Paul that's fantastic!   :D

Brian and I used to play at our local pub- old-time fiddle/banjo session repertoire in the usual keys of A, D, G, with a guitar friend.

Then we stopped doing that for a while.  When we came back, we were playing slower, in lower keys, just me and Brian on fiddle/banjo.  We played less 'festival' stuff.  The result?- people suddenly began asking WAY more questions, and in fact the owner asked us what was different, we said of course the lack of guitar, but he replied No, that we sounded 'older' and 'different' from before, and that he just loved whatever it was we had changed.   I honestly think people can relate better to lower tunings and less frantic mood.  We have found that at least in our case, they enjoy it more.  

Even the 'fast' tunes and songs I see posted here are way slower and lower than the typical old-time sessions these days.

I have no doubt that I would have been like the pub owner that Strumelia wrote of.  I like things on the slower, more deliberate side.  Even when the faster tunes are played a little slower, it allows the beat/lilt to shine through.

I remember sitting in an Irish bar years ago and a musical friend jokingly lamented that you can get on stage and play a beautiful air or lilting hornpipe on the tin whistle and no one there would pay any attention, but jam the end up your nose and play "Three Blind Mice" and the bar crowd would go crazy!"   I'm glad that both Paul and Strumelia had more positive results.

You could be right.  I was afraid the Briggs' tuning and early tunes weren't going to cut through the diner din, but that seemed not to be the case.  Maybe they stand out because they're so different from the usual fare...  Now I've just got to get Janet fiddling some of this stuff to the Hartel-Boucher!  Have fun at the fair!

Paul, did you find another fiddler with more free time?   Your other fiddler was fantastic but it sounded like she had a busy schedule.

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