Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

I was playing downtown (Frederick) at the NMCWM today, and had an interesting discussion with Jake Wynn, the program coordinator, about future Pry House events. In the short term he expressed and interest in hosting an afternoon jam (or jams) there, I don't know if there are enough folks near enough to make this work as an "early banjo" event, but I'd be open to it. Right now he has blocked off June 26th in the afternoon I'm planning on being there and will probably recruit some folks from the local old-time scene to join me if need be.

Now that the new adminstration at the museum is in place, he is also interested in exploring what it would take to continue AEBG. It sounds like it was never the museum's intent to let the event die, but the changes in their leadership, made it difficult to plan for the event at that time. I've invited Jake to this site so I'm hoping he will show up here and join the discussion.


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Wow!  If you can continue with this, Wes, I think you would be viewed as a hero by many here.

Certainly I would be among them!  So many are sad, not only that AEBG has been halted but that the perfect venue afforded by the Pry Barn was no longer available.  To tell you the truth, even if AEBG found another place at some point, I would miss the Pry Barn.......and, to a lesser extent my traditional post-Dunker Church concert meal at Blue Moon Cafe in Shepherdstown.

Late June is an excellent time

Well, maybe it's too late for this year but would love to see it rejuvenated for 2017 and future years.

That's what I meant too...for future reference, that is a good time of year.

I think next year is what we're looking at, I thinking maybe this forum can give some input as far as programming ideas etc. 

This is an exciting possibility, and if 2017 were a hypothetical target (I agree that late June is so nice) it seems like there would be time to work out both logistics and programming for the event.

In terms of programming:

  • I think that all of the work Greg did over the years to make AEBG an venue for serious inquiry and reflection on early banjo music and history (with regards to cultural appropriation and racism) should be continued in future incarnations; as much we all love to just hang out and play this old music together in the barn, it's important to examine where it came from and what it means to play it.  There have been so many interesting presentations that made unexpected cultural connections between the past and the present.
  • A good balance of presentations to jamming/mentoring time has worked really well - last year I think it was just about perfect.
  • It seems like there's been a devoted local audience for the Saturday evening concert; some years larger than others but I'm pretty sure I recognized some attendees from year to year.
  • In the last couple years, there was some Classic style playing creeping in around the edges; lots of possible material there for workshops/presentations.
  • John Milleker's wet plate photography was (I thought) a great parallel attraction the last two years.

I would love to be able to see everyone at the barn again; I agree that even if the event continues at some other venue, the Pry Barn would be sorely missed by anyone who's ever attended a previous AEBG.  I was lucky enough to attend the last five of them, and for me it came to be like summer camp and an extended family reunion rolled into one.

All good points, Andy.  I think we've all been very happy with Greg's work on past AEBGs and would want to continue with the standard that has been made thus far while allowing him to step back.  Any suggestions that have been made and encouraged have been in the form of mere tweaks.  If there are additional or specific needs that Program Coordinator, Jake Wynn would have in order to continue, however, it might be helpful to have his input. 

Personally, I'd like to see more hands-on, playing workshops, mentoring, jamming, and concert prep opportunities, and fewer 45 minute lecture type presentations.
To be honest, not all the presentations interest me, which normally might not be a problem if I could go do something else for a while, but in the Pry barn setting there's no other choice but to sit and listen to every presentation, which seemed to me to take up most of Saturday. 

I like to read and learn about the history of our genre.  But I get really antsy and frustrated traveling so far to then sit in silent attention for so much of the day  -while surrounded by so many players I admire that I want to get to know, play with and learn from.  
I'd love for there to be more of a choice of options in attending the presentations... meaning one could go to another spot to work up concert pieces or attend a mentoring or an actual playing workshop if they preferred. A limit of 2 or 3 scholarly presentations for the whole weekend (instead of 4 or 5) would suit me fine, especially if there are also two public concerts to prepare for and give. I think newer players really benefit, learn, and get excited by being encouraged through concert preparations and practice. I know I sure did.  Just throwing in my own two cents here.  
All this said, I didn't make the trip in 2015 so I don't know what that was like...but i did go in 2013 and 2014...and i was very saddened to hear about its ending.  

I thought we made some good adjustments in 2015. It did create a better balance. Sorry you missed that one. 

I don't think you can hold a conference and have everyone enthused about every talk. However, it would be great to have both playing time and also some historical perspective. It never hurts to have workshops or tutorials on the instruments either, how to keep them in tip top playing shape, what to do when something bad happens, etc.

I would definately find tutorials/workshops on instrument maintenance very helpful.

At Appomattox Court House NHP, we have tried to find that sweet spot between more playing and instruction time for players and programs accessable to the general public. Mark Weems and I have worked hard at  trying to find this balance. I too loved the Pry barn. And I wish y'all all the luck up at the AEBG.

At Appomattox Court House, we have the singular opportunity to make banjos ring at the very place where the banjo was first rung by white musicians after having learned from black musicians who shared the same neighborhoods together.

Banjoists in 2016 can sit on the porch of the circa 1819 Clover Hill Tavern where almost 200 years ago Joel Sweeney performed for travellers and for community events like militia musters and Indepedence Day barbecues.

We have not one but two extant cabins of Sweeney family members: Missouri Sweeney, the banjo playing sister of Joel, and Charles Sweeney, another banjo playing cousin. The Park's Long Range Interpretive Plan empowers us to restore these structures and use them to share the history of the banjo with the general visiting public and allow opportunities for players to work or volunteer to perform for visitors in the very landscape of enslaved African banjo players and white musicians that gave us some of the very beginnings of American popular music.

So, again, not to detract from the amazing experience that the AEBG has been & hopefully will be again, my deisre here is to encourage all lovers of the early banjo to add Appomattox Court House to their itineraries. 

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