August 2018 - The Birthplace of Country Music
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Pick 5: Laugh a Little – or A Lot – with Novelty Songs!

For our “Pick 5” blog series, we ask members of the Radio Bristol team to pick five songs within a given theme – from heartsongs to murder ballads and everything in between! Once they pick their “5,” they get the chance to tell us more about why they chose those songs. With a diverse staff of knowledgeable DJs, we’re sure to get some interesting song choices, which might introduce you to some new music, all easily accessible by tuning into Radio Bristol!

Howdy, friends and neighbors! It’s your ole pal Boppin’ Bailey George here with the latest Pick 5 blog post!

You know me as the host of The Honky-Tonk Hit Parade where I play the finest in honky tonk, hillbilly, western swing, and rockabilly music. And while I absolutely love playing those fine country & western favorites for you, I’ll bet there is something you didn’t know about me: growing up I wanted to be a cartoonist. As a small child, I would spend all my time watching the classic Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts and laugh endlessly at the Marx Brothers and The Three Stooges. Those experiences helped to form my appreciation of the odd and irreverent.

Luckily, I quickly found there was a whole genre of music just as weird as my tastes: they were called “novelty” records. Novelty songs especially popular in the early 20th century were comical or nonsensical renditions, often parodies, and they sometimes focused on contemporary events or topics. Let’s explore some of my favorite titles from Wackyland together, shall we? Let’s get weird…

“Tiptoe Through the Tulips” ~ Tiny Tim

If there was a Sinatra of Slack, it would be Tiny Tim. Despite his moniker, he stands as a giant among the world of novelty recordings. No man has ever captivated an entire nation as much as Tiny Tim did in the mid-1960s. Appearing as if from Mars, his performances on The Ed Sullivan Show and Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, along with his many appearances on network variety shows, caused him to be the true definition of an overnight sensation. His biggest smash, “Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” was first recorded in 1929 by “The Singing Troubadour” Nick Lucas, who sung it in the Warner Brothers musical Gold Diggers of Broadway. Tiny Tim’s 1967 revival is the “national anthem” of comedy songs and is among the most popular recordings of all time.

“Daffy Duck’s Rhapsody” ~ Mel Blanc

If you think what Mel Blanc did was easy, try it yourself. Known as “The Man of a Thousand Voices,” Blanc was perhaps the greatest name in voice acting, voicing all of your favorite cartoon characters including Bugs Bunny, Woody Woodpecker, Porky Pig, Foghorn Leghorn, Barney Rubble, and literally dozens more. With “Daffy Duck’s Rhapsody,” he takes recorded music to new heights as Daffy expresses his troubles during the dangers of hunting season and his plight as a target of duck hunters, all sung with great fortitude to the melody of composer Franz Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.” Sounds interesting, right? Trust me: it is!

“Der Fuehrer’s Face” ~ Spike Jones and His City Slickers

A bona fide victory anthem for audiences during World War II, this piece of morale-boosting shellac allowed people to laugh at the horrors of the Nazis and war. Written by Walt Disney Studios staff composer Oliver Wallace for an Academy Award-winning Donald Duck cartoon, this song found its place as a huge hit among civilians and G.I.s alike. One of the greatest bandleaders of all time, Spike Jones recorded it with his group The City Slickers for Bluebird Records and turned it into the biggest hit of his career. Hitler ordered it burned. It survived, and here it is for you to listen to!

“Battle of the Kookamonga” ~ Homer and Jethro

In my humble opinion, this is the greatest record Chet Atkins produced. “Homer” Haynes and “Jethro” Burns were among the most accomplished musicians of the 20th century. Fully able to record the best in instrumental and comedy albums, they also recorded some of the finest country jazz ever committed to posterity. Masters at the high art of song parody, Homer and Jethro stepped into Nashville’s famous Studio B and let loose with the A-team on this retelling of Johnny Horton’s “Battle of New Orleans.” Turn this up and enjoy, friends. You’ll be glad you did!

“A Dear John and Marsha Letter” ~ Stan Freberg

Known to a generation as “The Man in the Pizza Roll Commercials,” hip beatnik comedian Stan Freberg combined the art of classic radio acting and song parody by satirizing popular music to a cult audience in the 1950s. Here he combines “A Dear John Letter” by Ferlin Husky and Jean Shepard with his biggest success “John and Marsha.” The result is truly unlike anything you’ve ever heard. A genuine record from Planet X.

From Devoted Terrier to International Icon: The Story of Nipper

It’s #NationalDogDay today so what better time to indulge in a little doggy detection?

If you love dogs – as I do – you can’t help but love the logo made up of a small terrier dog sitting in front of an old gramophone. As a curator at a museum focused on music history, I see this logo on a daily basis on the many Victrolas and 78s we have on display and in our collections. And so I was ready and willing to turn terrier myself and dig deep to find out more about that dog and one of the most recognizable logos in the world.

Close up of small metal plaque bearing the Victor logo.
The Victor Talking Machine Company logo on one of the Victrolas in the museum’s collections. © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Haley Hensley

First things first: who is the dog in the logo? The pup in question was a real live dog owned by a theatrical scenic artist named Mark Barraud in Bristol, England in the late 1800s. He was called Nipper, inspired by his penchant for nipping people’s heels. Apparently, as with many terriers, Nipper was also a ratter of great success. He was devoted to his master, often following Barraud on stage for transformation scenes and when he was called to be recognized at the end of the play. After Barraud passed away, Nipper went to live with his brother Francis Barraud, a painter who lived in London.

While obviously a terrier, there has been some debate about Nipper’s exact breed. Some have identified Nipper as a Jack Russell, while others have claimed fox terrier or bull terrier. While looking much like a Jack Russell in the face, Nipper’s long legs seem to disprove that identity. The discussion has even found its way into the pages of the New Yorker and the website of the American Kennel Club, and many now agree that Nipper was actually a mixed-breed made up of the stately fox terrier and the charming bull terrier.

But how did Nipper end up as the model for the Victor logo? In the 1890s, Francis Barraud painted Nipper’s portrait with the dog looking at the horn of a cylinder phonograph, head cocked quizzically as if listening intently to whatever sound it was emitting. The painting was originally called “Dog Looking at and Listening to a Phonograph,” but he later paired the painting with the slogan “His Master’s Voice,” the idea being that the picture showed a dog who missed his dead owner listening to a recording of his master’s voice. Indeed, there were even stories that Nipper was found atop his master’s coffin listening to his voice through a phonograph, but this is just a tall tale.

This being the era of the new technology of phonographs and gramophones, Barraud saw an opportunity and he filed a copyright on the image in February 1899. Soon after he approached the Edison-Bell Company in England to see whether they would be interested in buying the painting to use for advertising their phonograph machines, but they didn’t bite. He then went to Emile Berliner’s Gramophone Company, also in England – executives there expressed interest as long as he could replace the phonograph in the painting with one of their gramophones instead. Easily done and agreed, Barraud was paid 100 pounds sterling for the painting and the copyright, including the slogan “His Master’s Voice.”

Painting of a disc gramophone, Nipper sitting in front of it looking into the shiny brass horn.
“His Master’s Voice” by Francis Barraud, updated with The Gramophone Company’s disc gramophone and its shiny brass horn. Public domain image available on Wikimedia Commons

The design of a dog listening to a gramophone, based on Francis Barraud’s painting, was soon being used to market disc gramophones by Berliner’s company in America, and it helped to launch the products of the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1901. Nipper the trademark became a rallying cry for Victor quality: “Look for the dog, on the horn, on the record, on the cabinet” and “Don’t buy a record without a dog. Imitations have neither the dog nor the loud and clear tone of our records.”

Not only was Nipper seen on the company’s products, but he also adorned their letterhead and envelopes, along with a host of advertising and promotional materials. And of course, the company’s marketers quickly realized that Nipper was an image that would sell other things too. He could be found on reproductions of the paintings and on postcards, and as souvenirs such as paperweights and pen trays. He was even used in satirical cartoons and images such as “His Master’s Vice” where he sits amongst whisky bottles to highlight the dangers of alcohol. And today dedicated Nipper collectors look for his many manifestations in antique stores and on eBay, at collector’s fairs and while digging through estate sales. Indeed, there is an entire book to aid collectors in their search – Nipper Collectibles: The RCA Victor Trademark Dog (a big help in this blog post!).

Three images of small Nipper statuettes, including one beside a Victor gramophone.
A few Nipper collectibles, courtesy of Bob Bledsoe. © Birthplace of Country Music

And the painting of Nipper served as a model for other, more grandiose advertisements for the company over the years, including one of my favorites: a beautiful stained glass window from Victor’s headquarters in Camden, New Jersey, now one of the landmark objects on display in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. And even more impressive: a 28-foot tall, 4-ton Nipper can also be seen on top of a warehouse in Albany, New York.

Round stained-glass window, beautiful colors highlighting the design of the Nipper painting and with the word's His Master's Voice beneath the image. A museum label is seen in front of the window.
Stained glass window from the Victor Company building in Camden, New Jersey, showing Nipper listening to the gramophone now on display at the Smithsonian. Courtesy of Rene Rodgers

There is a long and convoluted history of the evolution of the Victor trademark bearing Nipper to the use of the logo by later iterations of the company and beyond, including RCA Victor, EMI, and HMV (standing for “His Master’s Voice”). But despite Nipper’s significance in the history of the recording industry and of advertising and branding, for me it all comes back to Nipper the dog: a dog that went from being a loyal companion to his two owners and a tenacious hunter of rats and other small beasts to an international icon, recognized the world over.

Finally, just for fun, my search for Nipper info led me to this wonderfully silly video called “Nipper Runs Amok.” Probably not the image best-suited for selling gramophones…




Fiddlers’ Conventions: Summer is the Time for Fiddlin’ Fun!

What do you get when you mix a wide-open outdoor space with camping, musicians, spectators, dancing, ribbons, and prize money? You get a fiddlers’ convention…and that’s no joke!

A view of the Galax Fiddlers' Convention grounds from above -- showing the campground, stage, and other elements.
View of the Galax Fiddlers’ Convention grounds. Photo by Trish Kilby Fore

For those who are unfamiliar with fiddlers’ conventions, these events take place all over the United States, and there’s a hotbed of them right here in this region of northwest North Carolina, southwest Virginia, and northeast Tennessee. Basically, a fiddlers’ convention is an event that is sponsored by a community or civic group as a fundraiser for their organization. Often a convention will occur the same weekend each year, so everyone will know when it is and save the date so they can attend year after year. Lots of musicians and music lovers follow the fiddlers’ convention circuit throughout the summer, going to one every few weekends.

Camping is a big part of many fiddlers’ conventions, and the magic of sleeping under the stars amongst a group of like-minded people certainly promotes a greater sense of community among listeners and musicians. The campground is where musicians jam, learn new tunes, and practice to get ready for the upcoming contests, including individual instruments, old-time and bluegrass bands, and flatfoot dance categories. Where there is music at the campground, a good-sized audience of music lovers is sure to also gather to watch the contests, listen to the music, dance, and socialize together. Out in the field of campers is where some of the best music can be heard – an added bonus!

The convention competitions are exciting to watch and also filled with amazing music. Each on-stage contest performance is assigned a score on a numerical scale by a group of judges, all experienced musicians. The judges’ scores are averaged by the convention organizers, and the performances are ranked according to their average score. At the end of the contests on Saturday night, everyone goes to the stage for the presentation of ribbons and prize money to the winning musicians and bands who have earned the highest scores. After the contests are over and the prizes are awarded, musicians go back to their camps to continue playing, dancing, and frolicking late into the night. There’s no end to the good music!

Historically, fiddlers’ contests and conventions have been around for a long time. The print edition of the Encyclopedia of Appalachia notes that the first fiddling contest in America was held in 1736 in Hanover County, Virginia. The oldest fiddlers’ convention in this region is the Johnson County Fiddlers’ Convention, which is coming up this Friday and Saturday, August 24—25, 2018, at the Old Mill Music Park in Laurel Bloomery, Tennessee. This year will be the Johnson County Fiddlers’ Convention’s 93rd anniversary!

Large group of musicians standing with their instruments in front of what looks to be a large church or civic building; the five members of The Powers Family are seen in the center of the group.
The Powers Family (center), one of the early hillbilly family bands, is seen here with a large groups of musicians at a music competition in the 1920s or 1930s. Courtesy of James Powers and Stephanie Collins

The largest fiddlers’ convention in this region is the Galax Old Fiddlers’ Convention, which always takes place the second week of August. The founder was Dr. W. P. Davis, who thought of the idea as a fundraiser for the Galax Moose Lodge and involved the school’s Parent Teacher Association so the school could be used for the location. The first convention was held in April of 1935; this year marked the 83rd annual convention. Since that first fiddlers’ convention, Galax has become well-known as the World Capital of Old-Time Mountain Music, and people from all over the world come to attend the convention at Galax.

Each year, I take vacation time to attend the Galax Old Fiddlers’ Convention. It is a special time for me – some of my best musical memories and dearest friendships have been made there. The thing I love most about Galax is visiting with friends and playing music with folks that I don’t get to see on a regular basis; indeed, seeing people at Galax is similar to attending a big musical family reunion. And, of course, old-time music is dance music, and I love to see people flatfoot dancing on the small, portable dance boards they carry with them from one jam session to another. I also love meeting people and making new friends, easy to do at any fiddlers’ convention. I’m also realizing now that I’m no longer the younger generation, so I love seeing young folks becoming part of this community and playing music.

This year, my husband Kevin and I made two new friends at Galax who traveled long distances to attend the event: Ulf Lidberg and Marc Menish. Lidberg, who made the trip from Stockholm, Sweden, plays guitar, banjo and fiddle, loves old-time music, and followed the advice of a friend who told him he should come to Galax. Menish teaches Media Studies at Aoyama University in Tokyo, Japan, and he is making a documentary on the history, development, and characteristics of old-time music. When asked why he came to Galax, he said he wanted to video jams and to experience the music in an up-close and personal way – he definitely came to the right place!

Close up of Ulf Lidberg, wearing a baseball cap, playing a banjo.
Ulf Lidberg from Stockholm, Sweden, playing a fretless banjo made by Kevin Fore. Photo by Kevin Fore

In recent years, there’s been a trend to get young musicians involved in the fiddlers’ convention tradition, and so Galax begins on Monday night with a large youth competition. I think it’s an excellent way to give young musicians the experience of playing on the Galax stage and to compete against other youngsters of a similar playing ability so they don’t have to compete against adults unless they choose to do so. Winning a prize in the youth contest helps young musicians gain a sense of accomplishment and provides a lot of encouragement to continue playing music.

Two youth musicians on stage -- the one to the left on guitar, the one to the right on mandolin.
Hazel Pasley, from Sparta, North Carolina, participating in the youth guitar competition. Photo by Trish Kilby Fore

Going to the fiddlers’ conventions is one of my all-time favorite things to do as a musician. You never know who you might see or get to play with or what might happen! There’s an excitement in the summer night air that binds people together. If you’ve never been to a fiddlers’ convention, start planning to get to one as as soon as you can!

Trish Kilby Fore standing near the performance stage with her second place ribbon.
Me with my second place ribbon from the clawhammer banjo contest, Galax Old Fiddlers’ Convention 2018 – an exciting night for me! Photo by Dennis Hines


Country Music from Far and Wide on Farm and Fun Time

Farm and Fun Time was back again on August 9 with another exciting installment! This month’s show featured music that connects our Appalachian musical heritage with country music in other parts of the United States and beyond! Thanks to our sponsor Eastman Credit Union, Radio Bristol was able to bring Farm and Fun Time not only to those in the audience or tuned in to WBCM-LP, but to viewers via Facebook Live. Be sure to like WBCM – Radio Bristol on Facebook to tune in every month!

Host band Bill and the Belles kicked the show off with a set of heartwarming songs, including “Pal of Mine” and “Moonlight, Shadows, and You.” Be sure to check out their new record “Dreamsongs, ETC” out on August 24 on Jalopy Records! Our “Heirloom Recipe” presenter this month was Bristol entrepreneur and former ice cream truck driver Karen Hester. Karen shared her fond memories of making homemade ice cream in a hand-cranked churn. Though she doesn’t use the old, labor-intensive method at her ice cream parlor and candy shop The Southern Churn today, the fond memories of making ice cream the old-fashioned way inspires the delicious frozen treats served there. Lamenting the intense labor that goes into making a small batch of homemade ice cream, Bill and the Belles crooned those “Cranky Old Ice Cream Blues.”

Left pic shows Bill and the Belles on stage with a full audience in front of them; right pic shows Karen Hester in front of the microphone, cranking an old-fashioned ice cream maker.
Bill and the Belles get the packed house ready for a great show, while Karen Hester of The Southern Churn demonstrates the hard work that goes into hand-cranked, homemade ice cream. © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Billie Wheeler

Our first featured musical guests were Jesse Lége and the Old Fashioned Aces. For the first time, a traditional Cajun band took the stage at Farm and Fun Time, and it blew the audience away! Honing his craft for over 50 years in the dance halls of Cajun Country and beyond, Jesse Lége is a living American roots music legend. Accompanied by the Old Fashioned Aces, Blake and Amelia Miller, Lége presented some of the most authentic Cajun music you could hear anywhere. From one steps and two steps to waltzes and Cajun country classics from the catalog of D. L. Menard, this set transported the audience from the Birthplace of Country Music to a Louisiana dance hall, receiving a well-deserved standing ovation at the end.

Left pic: Close up of Blake Miller on fiddle; top right pic: the full group of Jesse Lege and the Old Fashioned Aces playing together; bottom right: a close up of Lege's accordion.
Jesse Lége and the Old Fashioned Aces wowed the Farm and Fun Time crowd, and it was great to see such talented musicians at their best. For the eagle-eyed in the audience, Lége’s small accordion bore the image of a crawdad when closed up – a nice Louisiana touch! © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Billie Wheeler

For this month’s “ASD Farm Report” segement, we visited Hope Farms in Greene County, Tennessee. What says summer more than a fresh heirloom tomato – eaten fresh and still warm out of the garden, layered in a hot and cheesy tomato pie, or that old Southern favorite of a tomato sandwich? Not much, and Steve Mallory and Hope Farms can get you your heirloom tomato fix. Here’s a video from our visit:

The name Farm and Fun Time and bluegrass music have been connected since the radio show’s 1946 debut, and it’s a show that has always been filled with innovative and wonderful music. And so we were honored to host the Buenos Ares, Argentina-based Che Apalache at the August Farm and Fun Time. With members hailing from Mexio, Argentina, and the United States, Che Apalache blends the sounds of Latin America with American bluegrass music, creating a high-energy style that is distinctly their own. Led by North Carolina-born fiddler Joe Troop, the night’s performance consisted of everything from Latin rhythms to a capella songs sung in traditional four-part harmony. This compelling set showcased the power of cultural exchange, proving that musical is an international language.

Left pic: All four members of Che Apalache playing on stage; right pic: close up of the band's banjo player.
Che Apalache brought the Latin sound to bluegrass on the Farm and Fun Time stage, a wonderful combination! © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Billie Wheeler

Thanks to everyone who came out and made this a wonderful evening of fun and music! We’ll be presenting a special Farm and Fun Time at Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion on Saturday, September 22! And tickets for October’s Farm and Fun Time featuring The Quebe Sisters and The Barefoot Movement are going fast, so get yours today!

The Banjo Gathering: Exploring Banjo History and the American Experience

I came to the banjo in the early months of 1994, at the age of 19, when I saw a PBS broadcast of the documentary The Weavers: Wasn’t That a Time! (1981). In addition to being entranced by depictions of the banjo in the hands of the great Pete Seeger (1919—2014), I was also deeply moved by what I felt to be a positive sense of community projected in the film. It was a major turning point as I became transfixed, learning about how the power of music shaped various social movements in the 20th century. Within the next year, after getting my own banjo, I discovered that the instrument could serve as a gateway to learning about American history in ways that I had never before experienced.

Now, after 24 years of chasing the banjo and its long, complex history, I often reflect on the incredible people I’ve collaborated with through the years, building on that sense of community that attracted me to the banjo in the first place. I’ve enjoyed many rich opportunities to learn from a great diversity of individuals and traditions in the Americas, West Africa, and Europe. Here in the United States, some of the most significant people I’ve known in the banjo world are associated with the annual Banjo Gathering. Formerly called the Banjo Collectors Gathering, this event has informed many aspects of my life as an archivist, ethnomusicologist, and musician.

Since 1998, this informal network of collectors, researchers, instrument builders, and musicians has shaped the way people understand and appreciate the banjo’s deep links within the greater American experience. What makes the Banjo Gathering distinct from other banjo-centric events is that its founders – banjo collectors and scholars Peter Szego and Jim Bollman – have maintained the event to focus entirely on the banjo ​as a historical, cultural, and design object.

Each Gathering has met in a range of locations along the east coast with geographic significance to banjo history, such as Rochester, Boston, Long Island, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Nashville, Knoxville, Tennessee, and Williamsburg, Virginia. This year, the Banjo Gathering is celebrating its 20th anniversary (1998—2018) on November 1—4 by convening at Bristol’s Birthplace of Country Music Museum (BCMM). Here, registered participants will experience the Gathering’s signature activities while exploring the banjo’s intersections with the museum’s mission to illuminate Bristol’s role in the birth and development of country music.

One of those signature activities is an “expo,” which will occupy the museum’s Special Exhibits Gallery. In this space, attendees will display instruments and ephemera predominantly from the 19th and early 20th centuries, and they will also get the chance to network and to talk in a more casual atmosphere.

Three pictures from Banjo Gathering 2017: Several banjos displayed on stands at the expo (left); two men looking at a banjo being held by a third man (top right); a display of banjos and related ephemera on a table with one male visitor (bottom right).
The “expo” at the 2016 Banjo Gathering: Display tables filled with banjos (left); attendees Andy Fitzgibbon, Kevin Enoch, and Richard Jones-Bamman discussing a banjo during a break between presentations (top right); attendee Chris Witulski visits display tables filled with banjos and related instruments (bottom right). Photographs courtesy of Kristina Gaddy / Banjo Gathering

The Gathering also provides a platform for the latest scholarship, talks, and panel discussions on banjo history. As outlined on the Banjo Gathering website, the event welcomes presentation proposals that cover:

* The art and craft of banjo-making from early gourd instruments to contemporary banjos

* The banjo’s role in the early recordings and music and dance in genres such as minstrelsy, jazz, country, old time, and bluegrass

* The American experience through banjo history, including the African Diaspora; America’s history of slavery, racism, and resistance; and social class and cultural stereotypes

Three pics: Man holding a banjo while discussing it in a presentation (left); man holding a mic in front of a PowerPoint presentation (center); man facing a large audience with his arms held wide and a Edison recording machine with morning glory horn to his left (right).
Two presenters from the 2016 Banjo Gathering – Brooks Masten (left) and Christopher Dean (center) – share their knowledge about banjo-building traditions. Jerry Fabris, a 2014 Banjo Gathering presenter, explains early Edison recording equipment that was used at the Gathering to demonstrate historical recording techniques for the banjo (right). Photographs courtesy of Kristina Gaddy / Banjo Gathering

Every Gathering also typically includes site visits and field trips to locations that add value to the narratives surrounding banjo history.

Two pics: Several Banjo Gathering attendees in the one of the Met Museum's galleries being shown a banjo by a curator (left); several participants looking at a variety of banjos and related ephemera on a table in a museum education room (right).
In 2014 Banjo Gathering attendees visited the banjo holdings at the Met in New York City (left), and in 2017 participants got the chance to view a cross-section of the banjos and related ephemera in the collections of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History (right). Photographs courtesy of Kristina Gaddy / Banjo Gathering (left) and Greg Adams (right)

I attended my first Banjo Gathering in 2001 at the invitation of banjo builder and historian George Wunderlich, and I’ve only missed one Gathering since that time. I keep coming back year after year because I see the constant potential of tapping into the knowledge of other attendees, exploring the instruments and ephemera they bring, and brainstorming ways of applying that knowledge in public-facing outputs. A goodly number of exhibits, books, and recordings have grown out of this event, and 2018 looks like it will maintain this trend.

What makes the 20th Anniversary Banjo Gathering particularly special for me is that it coincides with the University of Illinois Press publication of Banjo Roots and Branches, edited by Robert B. Winans. Many of the authors of this highly anticipated book are regular Banjo Gathering attendees. The book’s subtitle – West African precursors, African-Caribbean origins, North American journeys – measures the breadth of dedication and influence that the Banjo Gathering represents. The book not only pays homage to another University of Illinois Press author – Dena Epstein and her book Sinful Tunes and Spirituals – but it is also dedicated to Shlomo Pestcoe (1958—2015), who was a part of the greater Banjo Collectors community and a driving force behind the book.

Book cover of Banjo Roots and Branches -- blue background with a banjo shape bearing tree branches and roots.
The book cover of Banjo Roots and Branches makes a strong statement with its graphic design. Image from the University of Illinois Press website, where the book can be purchased.

For some attendees, the Banjo Gathering is just a good time to get together with friends who like to collect similar things and to talk about their passion. For others, this event provides access to primary source materials that illuminate banjo history in ways that do not exist anywhere else. For me, I see the Banjo Gathering as an opportunity to ask questions about what it means to understand the American experience using an instrument whose history has the power to challenge and inspire.

Come explore what banjo history and the American experience means to you when you reserve your place at the Banjo Gathering!