It's a rather broad way to describe it. I think it would also bank on how minstrel banjoist is defined but I think the majority of us are hobbyists of sorts which dabble in various things. I am always impressed at what some of the folks here do when they aren't playing a minstrel banjo. There are a few who are deff more involved in the actual preservation of the history itself. And a few folks who make a living doing banjo or other music related things. Some do reenacting and play dress up (the best part!) and I feel the majority of us play other instruments.
That said I would guess it's a hard number to come by. There are 1275 members on here but I don't think everyone of those is an active player. I'm in San Diego and am very blessed to have David Swarens as a mentor in all things old, victorian and banjo related. He is the only person from San Diego on here that returned my emails and attempts to make contact. So if that is any indicator, 2 out of what I think was 5 people from San Diego on this site actively play. I think you'll find more folks into it out east too.
There needs to be a minstrel banjo census
I would say that the number is somewhere in the hundreds. It would be hard to pinpoint it beyond that. There are people who play fretless minstrel era banjos, and then there are people who study and play with the technique and repertoire of a minstrel banjoist. That is a smaller group.
Yes there are plenty of people who buy 'minstrel style' or gourd banjos because they've heard them played and like the low sound...but then they play oldtime clawhammer on them, without wanting to have to learn a new low-bass tuning, the resultant new fingering, or stroke style techniques or the period repertoire. I don't think of them as "minstrel banjo players"... just like if a clawhammer player bought a bluegrass style banjo and clawhammers oldtime tunes on it that doesn't make them a 'bluegrass banjo player'. Or vice versa.
Interesting... I was just wondering. I've only just began playing the early, traditional repertoire and I had never heard of it before stumbling across a few random videos on Youtube. Even though, i'm not very good, knowing that there may only be a few hundred players out there makes me feel as though I'm part of a secret club. Hehe. I wish that I could find a mentor or someone else who shares this interest. Anyone here happen to be from eastern Canada?