Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

I did a local Historical Society gig this week. I started with a Civil War tune and went backwards....the tunes went in groups. First a Foster medley, then an Emmett medley, and finally some of the tunes Joe Sweeney made famous. In between I did banjo solos where I group 2 or 3 tunes together along with any discussion to set up the next medley. This format worked very well. I would like to hear of others experience in presenting their material to the public.

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Among other things, my wife and I present programs of 19th and early 20th c. music. As such Minstrel banjo makes up only a portion of the program. It always goes over very well with audiences.

I usually will play medleys of different types -- African or African-American based, Celtic based etc. I'll also accompany some songs with it.

This year we gave MANY performances of "What a Weapon is the Ballot: Political Campaign Songs from Washington to Nixon." In this program we accompany a good many of the mid-19th c. campaign songs with the banjo (some are actually set to minstrel tunes anyway -- Boatman's Dance, Dixie, Dan Tucker, Clar de Kitchen etc.)
In our monthly "Old Time Music" gig, I get about 15-20 min to do whatever I want as a solo (otherwise, I'm just playing backup to the singers). I bring a different banjo each time and basically play a tune, talk history (usually in story form) and play another tune. I did Sweeney the first time and the audience seemed to like it. Same with S.S. Stewart. I've been thinking about doing a Briggs story next.

I have to come up with about 45min worth of Stroke Style stuff for Feb. 2009 (plus 45min of Classic banjo), this discussion is of extreme interest to me.

For the narrow topic of stroke tunes, I am going to list some "trios" I have found fit well with each other, and I sure want to hear about how others string together tunes. These provide a nice lengh in between vocal songs. One tune repeated too seems boring without a dancer. It's nice to do tunes that segue well, but have a change that a lay person can hang his hat on to find a distinction between tunes.
Here are a few-

Harper's Jig / Corn-husking Jig / Rapahanock Jig
Ethiopian Cracovienne / Briggs' Reel / Briggs' Jig
Gettin' Up Stairs / Cane-brake Jig / Grape Vine Reel
Spring Jig / Blue Eagle Jail / Barley Reel

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