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What you need to know for 01/20/2018

Banjo tour is both reunion, inspiration


Banjo tour is both reunion, inspiration

For Tony Trischka, the New York Banjo Summit tour is more than just a reunion among old friends. “It
Banjo tour is both reunion, inspiration
Tony Trischka is one of seven players that are part of New York Banjo: 5-String Summit being held at The Egg in Albany on Saturday.

For Tony Trischka, the New York Banjo Summit tour is more than just a reunion among old friends.

The Syracuse-born banjoist is one of seven players on the tour, along with Béla Fleck, Bill Keith, Eric Weissberg, Pete Wernick, Richie Stearns and Mac Benford (Noam Pikelny performed on the tour’s late October dates only). All the artists on the tour are New Yorkers, and longtime friends and collaborators — Trischka looked up to Keith and Weissberg as heroes, was headliner Fleck’s banjo teacher in the ’70s, made his first recordings with Wernick in the ’70s in the band Country Cooking.

“I was thinking about it this morning — we have seven banjo players on this tour, and we get to hang out with each other all day and all night long,” Trischka said from his home in Fair Lawn, N.J., while weathering Hurricane Sandy. “When banjo players get off the road, they’re just home, which is nice. But at the same time, you miss being with other people who do what you do, people to be inspired with and commiserate with. So it’s just a luxury to hang out with Bela, and just everyone on the tour.”

But even beyond the longtime friendships among the banjoists and the members of the backing band, Trischka has been inspired by playing with fellow banjo players each night.

New York Banjo: A 5-String Summit

With Béla Fleck, Tony Trischka, Bill Keith, Richie Stearns, Eric Weissberg, Pete Wernick and Mac Benford

Where: The Egg, Empire State Plaza, Albany

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

How Much: $44.50, $34.50

More Info: 473-1845,

“It’s a reunion, but it’s even more than that,” he said. “Because most of us are banjo players, there’s the added element of being inspired by each other. It’s definitely done that for me.”

Three dates on the tour early this week were postponed because of Hurricane Sandy, including stops in New York City, Princeton, N.J., and Alexandria, Va. The tour is back on now, though, and heads to The Egg on Saturday night.

Anniversary celebration

The Egg is the whole reason the tour materialized in the first place. It’s a celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the first New York Banjo Summit, a one-off show commissioned by The Egg in 2002. When The Egg decided to bring the show back for the anniversary, other venues took notice, and the event quickly grew into a 10-date tour.

“I think one of the nice things about [doing a tour] is that we’re honing the show, so by the time we get to The Egg it’s gonna be nice and tight,” Trischka said. “But even within a couple — the three shows we’ve already done, we feel like it’s tightening up really nicely. Even the first show got a great response, even when not everything was perfectly in place. The overall enthusiasm to do it, I think, shone through.”

The backing band — featuring fiddler Alex Hargreaves, bassist Corey DiMario, mandolinist Jesse Cobb and guitarist Russ Barenberg — will back all seven players throughout the evening, through solo showcase sets and collaborations. The show opens and closes with a group performance featuring all the banjo players.

Trischka is performing a three-song solo set, including two new compositions slated for an album due in the spring — his first since his 2008 Smithsonian Folkways release “Territory.”

“One of the songs is a solo tune; I’ll start my set with that,” he said. “The other tune has approximately 8 million chords, so I want to apologize to the backing musicians for that. And the tune in between is a more traditional-sounding tune I wrote for an album five years ago, ‘Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular.’ ”

Both the 2002 show and this year’s tour celebrate the progressive banjo playing that has been coming out of New York state for over a century, starting with innovator and Hudson Valley native Vess Ossman in the 1800s and continuing with Pete Seeger and the folk revival movement in New York City in the 1950s.

“A lot of the banjo players were either born or raised in New York City — I grew up in Syracuse,” Trischka said. “Or people moved to New York — Noam moved from Chicago to Brooklyn. . . . Pete Warnick, Eric Weissberg and Bela Fleck grew up in New York [City]; Bill Keith was from Boston originally but lived in Woodstock.”

These players drew from traditional bluegrass and folk styles, but made the instrument their own, blending in elements of jazz, pop, rock and other genres into their music.

“I think you can take every one of us and say there’s a progressive bent to our music, even though we all play traditional music,” Trischka said.

“Richie Stearns is one banjo player coming out of an old tradition, but he’s deeply embedded in traditional styles but also taking it to a new place, playing with a wah-wah pedal, playing different sets. Even while the sound may be more traditional, he definitely stretches the limits.

“The rest of us are coming more out of a bluegrass point of view, but we’re also known to varying degrees for stretching the banjo’s limits beyond what Earl Scruggs did, even though each and every one of us has deep roots with Earl Scruggs — Earl being the best that ever lived, or ever will live.”

Surprising eclecticism

This eclecticism often surprises audiences, especially on a tour like this.

“[A lot of people] think of ‘Dueling Banjos’ — speaking of which, Eric Weissberg was the guy who played ‘Dueling Banjos’ for the film ‘Deliverance,’ which had a profound impact on the popularity of the banjo. So we all owe Eric a great bit of gratitude,” Trischka said.

“But you get some banjo folks who know the banjo, play the banjo, and they know what we’ve done with the banjo; then there are others — wives, husbands being dragged by their spouses to a banjo show on a Saturday night — ‘We have to go to a banjo show? Oh, all right.’ And they enjoy it — there’s a lot of variety, fun, shtick here and there that keeps it interesting.”

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