It was reenacting that got me started. I've sort of always liked the banjo, but I was/am a piano player (yes, I've played Gotchalk's banjo piece on piano - that's a different post). My piano teacher had me learning to play on a number of Stephen Foster songs, so I was familiar with a lot of music already. You can't bring a piano out into the field. and I wanted to play music at reenactments, so I chose to learn banjo. As I've been playing, I've grown fascinated with the music of the time period, and with the history of popular American music.
I haven't "climbed off the pile of modern music" but have an interest in minstrel banjos, their construction, and certainly their sound. At this point I am thoroughly enjoying exploring most areas of banjo, both "modern" and historic. as well as alternative banjo such as banjo mandolins. I am enjoying it too much to specialize in a historic period. Instead I try to adapt my playing of various banjos to my primary musical interest which is twentieth century blues. And when I finish building my gourd banjos I am sure they will be blues instruments as well. So I glean info from this site but primarily banjo building and history more than historic banjo music.
Very interesting so far, John, Bart, and Dan'l. Thanks. I love these stories.
I keep a foot in just about all forms of banjo music...but as I have always had an interest in the past, I was drawn deeper and deeper into the banjo's history. Hearing Clarke Buehling play early stuff in 1992 got me interested in playing it myself. Finding an early-style banjo (a Dan Knowles re-creation of the W.S. Mount banjo) cheap on ebay helped a lot. Downhill from there!
I'm still on some other piles, but I enjoy this one very much. I came in through the backdoor of an interest in history. It was so utterly different from anything I had done. I like everything about the instrument...the sound, the tension...etc. The wealth of material was also a big surprise. This style will make a better segue into old age. My ears are damaged from so much rock music, and I really can't continue the kind of work I had been doing. I can enjoy this well into my sunset years. Also, it's lack of mass appeal makes it fun, because you can know most all the people involved...players, makers, etc.
Some additional posts on a similar, earlier thread (http://minstrelbanjo.ning.com/forum/topics/how-did-you-start?) may also be of interest here as well as the great new posts people are sharing about what's lead them to this amazing form of banjo music and material culture.
Since I didn't reply in the earlier thread...
I can trace my entire interest back to Spike Lee's movie "Bamboozled" in which, out of revenge, a disgruntled TV producer suggests that his network revive the minstrel show. The network buys it and it becomes a huge hit. A really uncomfortable film, but it introduced me to a thread of history that I knew nothing about. Not long after I sought recordings of the genre and later learned that people actually play this stuff still and that not all music called "minstrel" was seeping with hideous racism. Tim Twiss' YouTube channel eventually inspired me to actually play. I watched his videos for almost a year before actually making the commitment. And here I am with about 2 months of playing under my belt and reading this site on nearly a daily basis. I'm pretty surprised myself that I'm this into it.