Tėada, from Sligo, Ireland to appear March 18th in Harrisburg (tunes, music + dancing)

“One of the most exciting traditional groups to emerge in recent years” Irish World

Coming from Sligo, Ireland the band Tėada (the word means “strings” in the Irish language) has achieved worldwide acclaim for its ability to stay true to the timeless, expressive force of traditional tunes inherited from previous generations of great Irish musicians.

Midstaters can experience Tėada in a Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert on Sunday, March 18, 2018, at 7:30 p.m., at Appalachian Brewing Company, 50 N. Cameron Street, Harrisburg. The five-piece band expands to seven for this event with champion step-dancer Samantha Harvey and legendary singer and musician Séamus (SHAY-mus) Begley.

Tickets are available at https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3050248)

Téada first appeared in 2001 on Irish television, led by County Sligo fiddler Oisin Mac Diarmada. Though still in their teens, the young musicians were driven by the timeless, expressive force of music inherited from previous generations.

The band was quickly cheered for “keeping the traditional flag flying at full mast” (The Irish Times). “A fresh force in Irish music” said Earle Hitchner in the Irish Echo, and Irish Music Magazine described them as “the strings that bind…a young band with a deeply authentic sound [at] the cutting edge of the next generation.”

“We try to capture some of the rawness and individuality of the solo artist tradition, within the dynamic of a full band,” says Mac Diarmada.

The original quartet is now often a septet with Seamus Begley, the elder statesmen of the group. From a famous musical family in County Kerry, named 2013’s Traditional Singer of the Year (Irish TV TG4), Begley brings a deep trove of songs as well as fiery accordion playing and wit.

Téada’s most recent release, In Spite of the Storm (Gael Linn, 2013), follows a string of acclaimed albums on the Green Linnet and Compass labels, and the first to feature Begley. “One of the outstanding releases in recent memory,” raved Daniel Neely in The Irish Echo. “Another typically thoughtful and thought-provoking excursion from a band still hungry for tunes– and, belatedly, for songs,” added Siobhan Long in The Irish Times.

The American tour is supported in part by Culture Ireland, a branch of the Irish government promoting Irish arts worldwide. For more information on the band visit their website at teada.com

Concert tickets are $24 General Admission, $20 for SFMS members, and $10 for students ages 3-22. Advance tickets are available online at http://www.brownpapertickets.com or by calling toll-free (800) 838-3006.

To listen/watch Teada visit these sites:


In Spite of the Storm: https://teada.bandcamp.com/album/ainneoin-na-stoirme-in-spite-of-the-storm


Song with Seamus Begley https://youtu.be/W2_-oHPm5C8


March 26, 2017: The Outside Track to perform Celtic music in Harrisburg

The Outside Track, a Celtic group performing Scots, Irish, and Cape Breton tunes, songs, and step-dance comes to Harrisburg for a Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert on Sunday, March 26, 2017, at 7:30 p.m., at the Abbey Bar, Appalachian Brewing Company, 50 N. Cameron Street. The group features vocals, electric harp, flute, whistle, fiddle, and guitar.

For information on the band members visit http://www.sfmsfolk.org/concerts/OutsideTrack.html

The Outside Track was named Group of the Year in both the Live Ireland awards and the TIR awards and was nominated for a Scots trad award. The group’s latest CD, “Light Up the Dark,” was nominated for Best Album in the 2016 Indie Acoustic Project Awards.

Concert tickets are $24 General Admission, $20 for SFMS members and $10 for students ages 3-22. Advance tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets online at http://www.brownpapertickets.com or toll-free (800) 838-3006. For more information, visit the Susquehanna Folk Music Society website at http://www.sfmsfolk.org.

We had a chance to speak to the band’s accordion player Fiona Black about the origins of The Outside Track and what audiences should expect.

FOLKMAMA: I understand that throughout the history of the band you have had members from Scotland, Ireland, Cape Breton and the United States. Did you start out with the idea to become a Pan-Celtic band?

FIONA: It really didn’t start out as a concept band. We met in Limerick in Ireland at University. Originally it was myself and Ailie (we are the two Scottish members) and we also had a couple of Irish members at the very beginning and a Canadian member.

It has always seemed natural that we would play music from the countries that we were from. That’s how it came about and we have continued to do that.

FOLKMAMA: Would it be easy for an audience member to figure out the country of origin for the tunes or songs that you play?

FIONA: We all play music from our own regions and our own countries, but honestly there are many more similarities than differences between the music from Scotland, Ireland and Cape Breton.

FOLKMAMA: Can you describe your performances?

FIONA: Well, they are really quite lively. About half of what we do are tunes and the other half songs.  We do different arrangements of tunes; some traditional ones and some that we have invented. Each instrument is showcased at different points and we all work together on harmonies and chords. The fiddle player is the dancer. She does Cape Breton style of dancing which is really close to the floor and really beautiful.

FOLKMAMA: Who is in the band and where are they from?

FIONA: Teresa Horgan is the lead singer and flute and whistle player. She’s from County Cork in Ireland. And then Ailie Robertson is the harp player in the band—she plays electric harp. She creates a lot of the bass lines and a lot of the texture as well. And she’s from Edinburgh in Scotland. My name is Fiona Black and I’m from the Highlands in Scotland and I play the piano accordion. And then we have Emerald Rae who’s from Boston. She’s the fiddle player and the step dancer in the band. She spent a lot of time in Cape Breton. And then Eric MacDonald is also from Boston and he’s the guitar player in the band.

FOLKMAMA: How long have you been playing together?

FIONA: We started about 10 years ago. Ailie and I are the two original members left.

FOLKMAMA: Anything you want the readers to know?

FIONA: We just put a new music video out on Facebook. We have another week in the tour and then off we’ll go to Germany. We’ll be back in the US in August!

FOLKMAMA: Is this the main gig for everyone?

FIONA: We tour about six months out of the year. We all have different side projects, other bands and different teaching projects and composing project—but for everyone this is the main band.




Bumper Jacksons Come to Harrisburg October 23rd!

The Bumper Jacksons, a hot and sweet six-piece band that paints America’s story from New Orleans brothels to Appalachian hollers, comes to Harrisburg on Sunday, October 23, 2016, for a 7:30 p.m. Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert in the Abbey Bar at the Appalachian Brewing Company, 50 N. Cameron Street, Harrisburg.


The Bumper Jacksons are playfully creative with their originals and re-imagined roots music with both power and tenderness. This is a sit-down concert in a listening-room environment.

Members of the Bumper Jacksons include Jess Eliot Myhre on clarinet, vocals, and washboard, Chris Ousley on guitar and vocals, Alex Lacquement on bass, Don Samuels on drums and suitcase percussion, Dave Hadley on pedal steel guitar and Joe Brotherton on trumpet.

Tickets are $24 General Admission, $20 for SFMS members and $10 for students ages 3-22. Advance tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets online or toll-free (800) 838-3006. For more information, visit the Susquehanna Folk Music Society website .

I had a chance to interview Jess Eliot Myhre about the band’s sound, origins and even where the band’s unusual name came from!


FOLKMAMA: The Bumper Jacksons have such a great, fun, jazzy sound. I’d like to hear a little bit about how the band came to be.

JESS: Chris, the guitar player and I started the group almost exactly five years ago. We grew to become the sextet that we are today pretty organically and slowly over time. We’ve asked lots of musicians to sit in with us over the years, either at music festivals or at house parties around the DC/Baltimore area. Slowly over time the people that we really clicked with, both musically and personally, we’ve invited to become actual band mates.

There was never a grand vision at the beginning that we would be this roosty band with bass and drums and horns and pedal steel. They happened to be the people that we enjoyed playing with that added new textures and fun sounds and nuances to the songs that Chris and I were writing.

FOLKMAMA: It’s unusual to find a pedal steel guitar player in a jazz band. I imagine that this has really allowed you to broaden your sound.

JESS: One can find pedal steel guitar players that play in jazzier ways, but no, usually people would think of the pedal steel guitar to be in country music or Hawaiian music…or of course Western Swing music would be the most apt influence for us. Often these big Western Swing bands did a lot of the same repertoire as the early jazz bands.

FOLKMAMA: So where did the name of the band come from?

JESS: We’re actually named after a dog named Bumper. A lot of dogs do this–where the sound of certain instruments will get them to chorus with you, basically howl along. And Bumper was very drawn to my clarinet. And would just howl right a long and run right up and sit next to me. We named the group after Bumper and Jacksons was the name of the people who owned him.

FOLKMAMA: You are a fabulous singer and a great improv jazz clarinet player. How did you get your start?

JESS: I grew up singing in church and I didn’t really get serious about music until after I was already out of college and I moved to New Orleans. That was in 2010 and I really fell in love with the music that I was hearing and I had a couple of great informal teachers down there that would let me sit in with their band and gave me listening homework. So I really started diving into traditional forms of music.

I learned to play clarinet in the middle school band in the Florida public school system. Then I put it down for a long time. I owned a little plastic clarinet that was still at my folk’s house in Florida and so I after I graduated from college I called my mom up and asked her to ship it to me so that I could learn the New Orleans sound on it.


FOLKMAMA: What singers do you like to listen to? Who are you most inspired by?

JESS: I really like a lot of female vocalists from the early jazz era. Ella Fitzgerald in particular is one of my favorites. Then also Lena Horn and Billy Holiday to a certain extent. Recently I’ve been getting into classic country female vocalists like Patsy Kline.

FOLKMAMA: Tell me where you get your repertoire from.

JESS: The majority of songs that one hears at a Bumper Jacksons show are either written by Chris or me. Most of it is original material. We mostly write separately although we have been experimenting over the last few months with being more collaborative.

FOLKMAMA: What should audiences expect when they come to one of your shows?

JESS: I would say in general that our shows are pretty high energy, “dancey” kinds of events, with some moments of intimate tenderness. We both like to really move people bodily, but also emotionally.


The Abbey Bar is located upstairs at the Appalachian Brewing Company, 50 N. Cameron Street, Harrisburg.  The Concert begins at 7:30 PM.  Tickets are $24 General Admission, $20 FOR SFMS Members, and $10 for students.  Tickets are available at the door as well as through Brown Paper Tickets online or toll-free (800) 838-3006. For more information, visit the Susquehanna Folk Music Society website .

Ruthie Foster Comes to Harrisburg October 16th!


For one night, Austin musician Ruthie Foster migrates to our Northern capital.

“I love my work. I think that’s my fuel for all that fire onstage.”

So says Rruthie-foster-bootsuthie Foster, a captivating performer who uses her strong, soulful voice to inspire, lift and move audiences.

Foster combines elements of blues, folk, soul, and gospel to create a distinctive style that has won her legions of fans both in the U.S. and abroad. During concerts she exudes energy and passion while moving effortlessly from one powerful song to another.

On October 16th at 7:30 PM, Foster comes to Harrisburg courtesy of the Susquehanna Folk Music Society and the Blues Society of Central Pennsylvania. The event will take place at the Abbey Bar of the Appalachian Brewery Company in Harrisburg. Unlike some of the shows held at the Abbey Bar this is a sit-down concert in a listening-room environment. The venue is located at 50 North Cameron Street in Harrisburg. Tickets are $24 General Admission, $21 for SFMS and BSCP members and $10 for students and can be purchased at www.sfmsfolk.org or at the door.

Although Foster often performs with a band, this show will be solo. She says that she is looking forward to the change in pace.

“I get more freedom with the direction of the show, and can work with the energy in the room differently, she says. “In some ways, playing solo is more relaxing than with the band and in other ways, it’s more challenging.”

Ruthie Foster is one of the most decorated blues artists performing today.

Besides her 2010, 2012 and 2014 Grammy nominations, Ruthie has been recognized by organizations such as the Austin Music Awards (2007, 2008 and 2013 Best Female Vocalist), Blues Music Awards (2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013), Living Blues Awards (2010 Critics’ Poll Winner and 2011 nominee for Blues Female Artist of the Year).

Ruthie says that she’s equally excited about all the awards that she receives.

“They’re all pretty awesome. I don’t think I could pick a favorite. Being recognized is a great honor.”

A native of Gause, Texas, Ruthie is part of a large gospel-singing family and it’s obvious that many of her original songs are influenced by the full throated and joyous music of her youth.

“Music was all around me growing up,” she said.” I sang with my relatives in church and started playing the organ before I could even reach the pedals. On the radio in Texas, I got to listen to everything from Conjunto to blues.”

All that listening has led her to embrace a wide variety of styles. “I think that there’s a little bit of everything in my work, “she said.”I love the old soul, blues and gospel singers like Etta James, Sam Cooke, Mahalia Jackson and Howlin Wolf. Along with my originals when I perform I also do some Mississippi John Hurt and even a traditional Georgia Sea Islands song called Travelin Shoes.”

Sometimes she’ll throw in a cover song like Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire. Her treatment of the song is so innovative, that you might not even recognize this iconic 1960s favorite.

“I like to cover songs that are timeless and still relevant,” she said. “I look for songs that I can do a little something new with it and something that moves my spirit.”

Ruthie wrote about half the songs on her newest album Promise of a Brand New Day. On the CD is a beautiful a capella song, “Brand New Day” which Ruthie wrote for her grandmother.

“I wanted to dedicate this to her and her spirit,” she said. “In church she used to tell us all the time to ‘follow the promise of a brand new day’”

The CD was produced in LA by rapper and bassist Meshell N’degeocello who Ruthie called ‘an inspiring artist’ who was ‘very accommodating’ in the studio.

“She made it very easy for me to just come in and sing,” Ruthie said. “Her playing was impeccable, I’m so proud of this record.”

Now living in Austin, Texas, Ruthie says that she doesn’t get as much time as she’d like to enjoy one of the country’s music meccas.

“I’m out of town so much, I really only get to play there a couple times a year at most,” she said. “But it’s a great place to live, and there is a whole lot of music going on there at any time. “


The Appalachian Brewing Company is located at 50 N. Cameron St in Harrisburg. Concert tickets are $24 general admission and $10 for students. Tickets and information can be found online at www.sfmsfolk.org or by calling Brown Paper Tickets at 1-800-838-3006. This concert is sponsored in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Lois Lehrman Grass Foundation.


—-This article appeared, with minor adaptations, in The Burg Magazine’s October 2016 edition. Written by Jess Hayden. Used with permissions.



De Temps Antan (from Quebec!) , March 6th, Harrisburg

Dear Folk Music Fans,

I wanted to draw a little special attention to the upcoming De Temps Antan concert (this comingSunday, March 6th at 4 PM).

I’ve been making a lot of forays to festival in Quebec during the last dozen or so years, and have just fallen in love with the music there—it’s a refreshing and spirited blend of French and Irish, and so many of the bands (De Temps Antan especially) are very, very captivating on stage.

Additionally, De Temps Antan has one of the very best fiddle players that you’ll ever want to see. Andre Brunet. He is a pretty incredible force on stage, so unbelievably powerful and the music just flows right out of him!

I hope to see you on Sunday afternoon for a very special concert. I know that you won’t be disappointed!

Jess Hayden, Susquehanna Folk Executive Director

De Temps AntanDe Temps Antan, hailed as Quebec’s most powerful trad trio, brings its high-powered rendition of time-honored melodies from the stomping grounds of the province’s musical past to Harrisburg on Sunday, March 6, for a 4 p.m. Susquehanna Folk Music Society matinee concert at the Appalachian Brewing Company’s Abbey Bar, 50 N. Cameron Street, Harrisburg.

The group’s three members, vivirtuoss on fiddle, accordion, harmonica, guitar, bouzouki, and a number of other instruments, make enough music and enthusiasm for six players. Their success has brought them to play more than 600 concerts worldwide, including tours in Russia, Europe, Malaysia, and America. Each of the three members was a leader in the massive, multi-platinum, Quebec folk band La Bottine Souriante and have toured the world on some of the biggest stages. They’re now taking the energy they brought to arena performances and channeling it into a powerful trio.

Concert tickets are $25 General Admission, $21 for SFMS members and $10 for students ages 3-22. Advance tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets online atwww.brownpapertickets.com or toll-free (800) 838-3006.

“You Can Play Bach on It, You Can Play Anything on It.”-An Interview with Banjo Great Tony Trischka Appearing Sunday, February 21st in Harrisburg, PA


Grammy Award nominee Tony Trischka, recognized for his work as perhaps the most influential banjo player in the roots music world, comes to Harrisburg with his band Territory for a Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert on Sunday, February 21, 2016, at 7:30 p.m., at The Abbey Bar, Appalachian Brewing Company, 50 N. Cameron Street, Harrisburg. Tony Trischka Territory features Trischka on Banjo, Mike Barnett on fiddle, Jared Engel on bass and Dominick Leslie on mandolin.

Included in the concert admission is a 3:30 p.m. showing of the 90-minute documentary “Give Me the Banjo,” and a 5 p.m. Meet and Greet with Trischka, the film’s producer. The film is a musical odyssey through 300 years of American history and culture, featuring contemporary banjo masters such as Pete Seeger, Earl Scruggs, Bela Fleck, Taj Mahal, Mike Seeger, Alison Brown, Sonny Osborn, Don Vappie, Cynthia Sayer and Abby Washburn in interviews and performances, combined with rare archival footage, stills, recordings and first-hand narratives.

Concert tickets are $25 General Admission, $21 for SFMS members, and $10 for students ages 3-22. Advance tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets online HERE at or by calling toll-free (800) 838-3006.  For more information, visit the Susquehanna Folk Music Society website.

Susquehanna Folk Music Staff Writer Peter Winter was able to sit down with Trischka and discuss a range of subjects including recent projects, how to continue to push music horizons decades into a revelatory career, and MC Kendrick Lamar.


“[T]he people I’ve gotten to meet, the strange things I’ve gotten to do.”-Current Projects and Great Memories

One of the things that is going to be special about this show is that it will also feature a screening of the 2011 film “Give Me The Banjo” of which you were music director and co-producer.   I was wondering if you could talk a little about the film, how you became involved, and what your involvement was?

Well I had a project called “World Turning” and it was a history of the banjo from its African roots to modern times. I met this gentleman named Marc Fields. He was a documentarian that worked for a local PBS station in New Jersey and it sparked the idea for him to make a documentary on the history of the banjo. So starting in 2003 or something like that, we huddled about it and then started working on it. It was about nine years in the making. To be honest, Marc did all the grunt work, because he was the documentarian and did a lot of the filming and editing and all of that, but I was there for some of the interviews and gave him some direction, “Maybe we should have this person involved” and “This could connect to this,” you know that sort of thing. He did the lion’s share of the actual work. Then it aired on PBS after a while of negotiating.

In 2014, you had your new album “Great Big World” out on Rounder Records, It’s such a great record.

Thank you.

You’re welcome. On the album you have a wide variety of guest stars that I thought were so interesting. You had members of The Punch Brothers on there, also Aoife O’Donovan, and Bela Fleck. Add to that a folk hero like Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and even John Goodman. What was your thinking when you were assembling the group of people you wanted to have on this record with you?

Well it was really on a tune by tune basis. What ever the need seemed to be for that particular tune. I have a fascination with Westerns, my father grew up in Arizona so maybe that’s part of it, and I decided I wanted to write a song about Wild Bill Hickok. After writing banjo instrumentals for a million years, do we really need another banjo instrumental? Why don’t I start writing some lyrics? Because in my angst ridden teen years I would write poetry, so I decided to try and get back into writing lyrics, which is a kind of poetry. I felt Wild Bill Hickok had been under served. There were songs about Billy The Kid, Jessie James, what about poor Wild Bill? So I decided to write this song, and in the process of researching it, because I wanted to have historical accuracy in there, I came upon this quote, it was a wanted poster from back then, a “Help Wanted” for a Marshal in this town. And I thought “This would be a great thing to have some spoken word in there.” I know John Goodman from many, many years before from doing a show called “The Robber Bridegroom” it was on Broadway, then on a bus/truck tour and he was involved with that. I got to know him from that many years ago and we stayed in touch to some extent over the years, and so I got in touch with him, and he was willing to do it. And so I thought “great” because he’s just got the perfect voice for that sort of thing.   So that’s how I got him in there. And Aoife O’Donovan lives in Brooklyn and I live in New Jersey, so she lives close by. While I was doing this Stephen Foster tune, “Angelina Baker,” Michael Daves, who I wanted to have singing on it said, “You know, I know this woman who wrote the woman’s response to the guy” and I said, “Wow I could write some lyrics like that myself and have these dueling points of view” so we got Aoife to come in and sing that part. Those are a couple examples of how I got people involved.

Did you feel out of your element at all starting to write lyrics? Was that scary at first?

I didn’t feel out of my element, I felt, “Let me give this a shot and see how it works.” It just makes everything more dimensional. I’ve been fortunate that I have a good flow for writing banjo instrumentals. It doesn’t mean that they all turn out really well, but I can pretty much crank those out. It’s fun and it’s good exercise. Writing lyrics is a full other thing. I think that most people relate to lyrics more than they relate to banjo instrumentals. The average person is going to want to hear words. I tend to be a little verbose in my lyrics, and that may come from being a banjo player and feeling I have to fill all these spaces with all these notes, I don’t know. But it’s a good challenge, that’s how I feel about it. It’s kind of the same thing when you’re writing just the music, the instrumental, you know when it’s right. You have this inner sense, “Ok yeah, I should change this to this or whatever” and it’s the same thing with lyrics, you just know when it’s just not quite the right word. It’s a good challenge. I’m currently working on a project about the Civil War, and basically every tune has lyrics. So I’m really deeply involved in lyrics writing right now. I love having that extra dimension in there.

You’ve had such a varied career and experimented with so many things. You’ve done some movies, and you’ve done the Shakespeare play “As You Like It” back in 2012. What are some of the standout projects you’ve worked on that you felt really stretched you and caused you to grow as an artist, or that you just had a great time doing?

Boy there are so many of those. Working “As You Like It” as you mentioned was just a thrill. I’d worked with Steve Martin in recent years, and he was asked to write some music, write some songs for “As You Like It” for Shakespeare in The Park in New York City and he asked if I would be up for doing that. I said “Sure! Do a Shakespeare thing? This is crazy I’d love to.” So that was really fun. It was like being in the country, because when you’re at the Delacorte Theater in New York City, you can’t see any buildings, and there’s like a pond there with egrets landing and turtles would come up on to the shore backstage and lay eggs. It was crazy.   And I actually got to do one line for one show, which was “To pick or not to pick?” I did that in the first preview, and afterwards the director said, “Tony we’re cutting your line.” I was mortally offended, but I got to be a Shakespearean actor for about five words. That was a great experience. Getting to meet William S. Burroughs was kind of a crazy thing.   When I did the “World Turning “ album, I wanted spoken word on that also, and I won’t go through all the details, but I got to go to William S. Burroughs’ house in Lawrence, Kansas and that was a very interesting meeting and afterwards I decided it would be great to have him do the spoken word part of this dying banjo player in the 1850s and he agreed to do it. So the people I’ve gotten to meet, the strange things I’ve gotten to do, those are a couple of things. In terms of touring, playing in Czechoslovakia in 1988 when it was still communist was a peak experience. I would still put that up as the best tour I ever did because of the political overtones. I’ve been so fortunate, and the older I get, the more fortunate I feel. I’ve been able to have this life and travel, and meet all these amazing people, and be a banjo player!

“Through thick and thin it’s been there”-An Artist’s Journey with a Classic American Instrument 


The Banjo is such an iconic American instrument, obviously it came from Africa, but it is woven into the fabric of our history. Why do you think that is? Why has the banjo endured musical natural selection up to 2016 for us to have this conversation?

That’s very well put. That’s a really good question, and I don’t really know if I have a really good answer for that. It just kind of happened that way. It mirrors the social history of the United States. As you were alluding to it comes from Africa originally, and when African Americans were in slavery they would play these instruments. Drums were outlawed because you could communicate with them, but instruments were allowed to remain. There’s a picture in Colonial Williamsburg, of a slave dance from 1780 in South Carolina, and one of the musicians is this gentleman holding a gourd, a banza it was called, with a short string like we associate with five string banjos today.  So as early as the 1780s, obviously before that, they were playing this instrument as a way of keeping their legs and bodies together under the oppression of slavery.  Then it was picked up by the whites in the 1840s, and became an integral part of the Minstrel Show for many years, then became a parlor instrument in the late 1800s/early 1900s, for sophisticated members of society. Some of the very first recordings of any sort from the late 1800s/early 1900s were of banjo music. So it’s something about the sound of the instrument. I’ve done a lot of interviews with other banjo players for various projects I’ve done, and it’s the same for me, when people say, “Why did you pick up the banjo?” “Well, it was the sound of it.” And for me I was fourteen years old, and first heard the Kingston Trio, a tune called “M.T.A.” and there was this bright, exciting, fast sound, and it just grabbed me, and that’s true for many other people. That’s kind of the sound that even though, as Steve Martin said in a comedy routine, “It’s a happy instrument, you can’t be sad when you hear the banjo.” But then in more recent times, and he knew this all along he said, “There’s a melancholy about it.” And there is, there can be aside from all that, a happy sound, and you can play some very melancholy music on it. So there’s a depth to the instrument. And even because it’s round, there’s something iconic about something that is round (Laughs). It’s like Bluegrass music also, which is one way the banjo is used: It’s never going to hit the top of the charts, and you won’t see the Banjo Instrumental Award on the evening Grammys right after Beyonce or anything, but through thick and thin it’s been there.

That went into my next question. What about the banjo has kept you around? Why do you love it and keep coming back to it?

I can’t even exactly put that into words either. I sometimes say, “I didn’t choose the banjo, it chose me. “ On some level I kind of feel that way that because I went from flute, then piano, then guitar, then discovered the banjo and I was gone from there. I didn’t even think about “What am I going to do for a living once I got out of college?” I was kind of playing the banjo and I just kept playing the banjo. It was never “What should I do?” I was always a banjo player and always will be if I’ve made it this far. I think it’s just that for me, it is forever fascinating and it’s just a great creative outlet. I still love the sound of it.   I’m never satisfied with where I’m at; I always want to get better, so there’s always that. You got to keep pushing forward.

That’s incredibly exciting that you can always push that horizon and chase another goal on an instrument.

Exactly.   And you know there are times when I’ll start playing straight Bluegrass, you know Earl Scruggs, and I’m so happy to do that, and then after awhile I start trying to bush boundaries a little bit because I grew up in the 60s and heard The Beatles, and Frank Zappa, and Brian Wilson, Van Dyke Parks, Hendrix, and Miles Davis later on, who were all kind of stretching the boundaries and I sort of dug that and said, “I also want to be pushing boundaries” so everything is fresh for me because of all that music I was listening to, and my own desire to find new horizons on the banjo. And then when that would start to get a little tiring, I’d say, “Well ok, time to go back to Scruggs style.” Then I would discover some of the history of the banjo, and the parlor music I was referring to in the early 1900s, and then “Oh! Here are some early minstrel banjo books from the mid 1840s, where you can actually learn to play what these people were playing in 1855!” And then finding the African roots and it was this powerful thing. Kind of infusing this linear history of the banjo like we’ve been talking about, all these different styles, into what I do. Even though most of the time I’m playing bluegrass banjo (well bluegrass and the more progressive thing) I also wanted to do solo shows so I could do more of these other things. It’s like with any instrument, “Oh I play the guitar and I’m tired of playing classical, now I’m going to play rock ‘n’ roll, or I’ll learn to play bluegrass guitar.” I think that most people associate the banjo with bluegrass banjo, dueling banjos, The Beverly Hillbillies. It’s a musical instrument. You can play Bach on it, you can play anything on it. It’s endlessly fascinating.

Your career has been based in these periods of looking to the traditions of the banjo, interspersed with periods of innovation and wanting to push the boundaries. For both a musical instrument and a genre of music, why are those twin pillars of tradition and innovation important?

You mean in general why are they important?

Yeah. Why is it important for a musical tradition to thrive you need people on the traditional side keeping those things alive, but also innovators to keep things kinetic, why are both those things important?

Well I think you need to be rooted. You need to come from somewhere, whether it is jazz, or bluegrass, or classical, any kind of music. Even though probably on average, most people would rather go to hear Beethoven or Bach at a classical concert rather than Schoenberg even though he is sort of traditional in that early 1900s style. Rather than angular music, your average person is going to want to hear something more sonorous and more rooted. Yet music has to move forward and can’t stagnate.   The same thing with jazz, Louie Armstrong referred to Bebop music, you know Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie in 1945, as “Chinese music.” Louie Armstrong to his dying days was genius. Not everyone is ready for the next step, and yet it needs to move forward. There’s room for it all. I mean Bill Monroe when he invented bluegrass, it wasn’t like “Oh I’m going to invent bluegrass” it was a natural progression for him, an evolution.   He took elements of blues and old time country music, and there’s a certain jazzy element to it. You hear what he was doing right before Flatt & Scruggs started in 1945, and he had accordion…it was like swing music basically. And so what he came up with was, if not radical, then certainly an evolution, and people want to contain that and say, “Well it should just stay that.” And Earl Scruggs too; he was listening to jazz and there are definitely elements of jazz in his early music, so he was really stretching the boundaries. So what at one time would be considered radical or evolutionary, over time becomes traditional.

So true.

And then the next step moves forward from there.

I was really surprised when I was on your website to see that you are involved with online banjo lessons. I imagine you are such a busy guy with all your projects, why did you want to make time for teaching as well?

Well I’ve been teaching since 1970, the very first lessons I gave were in 1970 this friend of mine was playing banjo and she wanted a lesson and I said, “Well I don’t teach.” And she said “Well that’s ok I won’t pay you.” Perfect thing. My father was a physics professor at Syracuse University, so I guess it was in the gene pool on some level. Over the years after teaching a lot of one on one lessons, I started doing workshops and music camps that I continue to do today.   Then I was offered the chance to do “The Tony Trischka School of Banjo” online by a company called Artist Works, and it’s been so gratifying. I can earn money while I’m at home! One of the aspects of it is that people can send in videos and I respond to them on Skype in a day or a week or what ever, depending if I’m on the road or not. Also I have over 40 interviews in there with Earl Scruggs, JD Crowe, Steve Martin and Bela Fleck and on and on and on. So I have this huge banjo world I get to add to, because I’ve written a lot of instruction books. This school, every six months or once a year I go to Napa California (not such a bad way to make a living) where the company is based, to film lessons. I started with 150 lessons, and now there are certainly over 200 lessons. As time goes on there will just be more and more. I love that I can fill in a certain gap or someone will be looking for something and I can help with that. It just keeps expanding and building and becoming more enriched. It’s just such a wonderful paradigm and I’m lucky to do it!

“Not just bluegrass”-Listening Habits of a Banjo Great

So when you’re Tony Trischka, what banjo players do you listen to? Who are some players you really enjoy and that inspire you?

There are so many! Earl Scruggs still is always number one. Bill Keith is another one. He passed recently. He invented a style of banjo playing called “The melodic style” there were other people playing it before him but he was with Bill Monroe really put it out there at The Grand Ole Opry, and then on Decca Records. He was playing Fiddle tunes note for note on the banjo; a very important figure in banjo history and so I still listen to him. Bela Fleck, I love listening to his music, Noam Pikelny, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with him?

Oh I’m a HUGE Punch Brothers fan

Yeah! Ok Good. So Noam. I could just run down a laundry list of my favorite banjo players, but those are just some names to start with. Earl is always at the top, and always will be.

What are some albums that you’ve been listening to recently that you’ve really been enjoying?

Not just bluegrass but just in general?

Yeah it can be anything.

Woody Guthrie. I’m a big Woody Guthrie fan. Through his daughter Nora Guthrie my appreciation for Woody has really deepened. Pete Seeger. I’m just an old fogey at heart I suppose. Lots of Pete Seeger, I got to see him just before he passed, it was an amazing experience; that’s another story. So Pete, I grew up listening to him. My Parents listened to him and he was a big part of my life throughout. I’ll never get sick of listening to The Beatles I always hear new things on their music, Van Dyke Parks, I like listening to him. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with his music?

I’m not!

He worked with Brian Wilson on Brian’s visional “Smile” album. He wrote the lyrics on there. He released an album called “Song Cycle” which I think is one of the most amazing albums ever made. Aaron Copland. I’m up in Boston teaching at Berklee College of music right now, and on the way up two days ago I was listening to Aaron Copland almost the entire way up. A very pivotal musical figure in my life. He’s been a very important inspiration to me. Anyway, those are a few. I’ve jumped into Kendrick Lamar.

Have you been listening to Kendrick Lamar?

Yeah through my son. I appreciate how amazing he is. Here and there I catch a little of it, so I’m not totally back in the 60s. (Laughs).

I would never have thought you were stuck in the 60s.

He’s amazing, what can you say? His latest album…what’s that thing called?

To Pimp a Butterfly.

Right, right. It’s crazy good. Actually, David Bowie’s last record. I was never a huge Bowie fan, you know I got into it here and there, but that last album Dark Star is just…what an amazing concept. You’re dying, and that video he did at the end, the whole album, it’s just staggering. I think that’s an amazing album.

Just asking you what you’ve been listening to, it’s so eclectic. Do you think that has helped and informed your playing over the years, that you’re not just sitting there saying “Oh I listen to bluegrass and I’m the bluegrass guy.” but you’re talking about all these styles. Do you think they trickle into your playing?

I think it does. After all these years my playing style, it is what it is. Even though I try to evolve it and move it forward. Again, I know that listening to The Beatles and all those people in the 60s did really excite me and make me think “Well, you can do more than just play bluegrass,” Because, who could ever do it better than Earl Scruggs? Steve Martin plays (not to keep referencing Steve Martin but he makes some really good points) “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” he can play “Shuckin’ the Corn,” he can play the bluegrass tunes, but the way he feels about it is that other people have already done that so what can I do? So he’s written all these original tunes, and I feel the same way. I can play those tunes, I can play those notes, but I’ll never be able to do it as well as Earl Scruggs, and yet there’s a part of me that keeps trying. I’ve been playing for over 50 years and I’m still trying to play like Earl.   It’s part of what my music is about, is trying to sound like Earl, and I almost have that. And I’ll never get there, because he just HAD it.

And in the process of that you start sounding like yourself eventually.

Exactly. Exactly. It just evolves that way.


Peter Winter is a musician and writer in Harrisburg, PA.  He writes about a variety of music on his blog All The Day Sounds, and plays a variety of instruments in the Celtic Folk Band Seasons.  He tweets @peterwinter38





DOCUMENTARY FILM “GIVE ME THE BANJO” shown prior to Tony Trischka Territory concert, February 21, in Harrisburg, PA

Grammy Award nominee Tony Trischka, recognized for his work as perhaps the most influential banjo player in the roots music world, comes to Harrisburg with his band Give Me the Banjo for a Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert on Sunday, February 21, 2016, at 7:30 p.m., at The Abbey Bar, Appalachian Brewing Company, 50 N. Cameron Street, Harrisburg.

Please plan to join us for a 3:30 p.m. showing of the 90-minute documentary “Give Me the Banjo” and a 5 p.m. Meet and Greet with Trischka, the film’s producer. (Included in the concert admission)

There should be plenty of time afterwards to head down to the Appalachian Brewery’s restaurant for dinner before the concert. (Reservations suggested)

Concert tickets are $25 General Admission, $21 for SFMS members, and $10 for students ages 3-22. Advance tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets online at http://www.brownpapertickets.com or toll-free (800) 838-3006. For more information, visit the Susquehanna Folk Music Society website at http://www.sfmsfolk.org



“Give Me the Banjo” is a musical odyssey through 300 years of American history and culture, featuring contemporary banjo masters such as Pete Seeger, Earl Scruggs, Bela Fleck, Taj Mahal, Mike Seeger, Alison Brown, Sonny Osborn, Don Vappie, Cynthia Sayer and Abby Washburn in interviews and performances, combined with rare archival footage, stills, recordings and first-hand narratives.


Using the banjo’s diverse musical styles, rich social history and colorful players as our narrative “thread,” “Give Me the Banjo” highlights many of the issues at the heart of American culture today. In its long history, the banjo has symbolized patriotism and protest, pain and pleasure, low entertainment and sophisticated leisure. It’s been a black instrument, a white instrument, a laborer’s pastime and a socialite’s diversion, a young person’s fad and an old-timer’s friend. But mostly it’s been a snubbed instrument. Whether it’s Dan Emmett in blackface, the Jazz Age flapper whamming on a 4-string or Pete Seeger leading an anti-war rally with his long-necked Vega, the banjo has been the symbolic prop for stereotypes about race, class, gender, region and political persuasion right up to the present day.


With contemporary banjo masters providing the commentary, “Give Me the Banjo” weaves together rare archival footage and recordings with the narratives of historic banjo figures such as Joel Walker Sweeney, Lotta Crabtree, S.S. Stewart, Vess Ossman, Gus Cannon, Charlie Poole, Uncle Dave Macon, Elmer Snowden, Eddie Peabody, Dock Boggs, and Etta Baker. Throughout the program, experts in cultural history, folklore, popular music and instrument design supply additional analysis and historical context: Mike Seeger, Kip Lornell, Neil Rosenberg, Joe Wilson, Tony Thomas, Lowell Schreyer, Cece Conway, Bob Winans, Sule Greg Wilson, Pete Ross and George Wunderlich.


The Music Director for “Give Me the Banjo” is Rounder recording artist Tony Trischka, one of the most acclaimed acoustic musicians of his generation (IBMA 2007 Instrumentalist of the Year and Grammy nominee). The Writer/Producer/Director is Marc Fields, whose recent work includes two scripts for the Emmy-winning PBS series, Broadway: The American Musical, and as writer-producer, Willie the Lion (regional Emmy), a musical biography of the forgotten jazz giant Willie the Lion Smith, featuring Artie Shaw, Dr. Billy Taylor and Dick Hyman.

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