Connect with us
May 2024
Vol. 23, No. 8

Bluegrass Corner

The Banjo: A New Day for an Old Instrument

by Dwight WordenMarch 2014

One of the great musical treasures here in San Diego is the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) headquarters in Carlsbad. NAMM, as you may be aware, holds its annual NAMM show at the Convention Center in Anaheim, each January and it is one HUGE big deal. You may not know, however, that NAMM also houses its Museum of Making Music at its headquarters in Carlsbad. This is a fabulous museum, with a variety of intriguing exhibits, including touch-and-listen displays about the history of music and musical instruments. The Museum also includes a nice performance space where concerts and other events are presented.

Of particular interest to bluegrass and old time music fans, coming up at the Museum of Making Music this month and running through October is an outstanding exhibition focusing on the banjo, titled: The Banjo: A New Day for an Old Instrument. Here is a peek at the schedule for the exhibition:

March 29, 7pm: Banjo Exhibition Opening, Ashley Campbell, Shannon Campbell, Will Carter (Victoria Ghost)
May 3, 7pm: Alison Brown Quartet
May 10, 7pm: Bill Evans — The History of the Banjo in America
June 13, 7pm: Sammy Shelor and the Lonesome River Band
June 21, 7pm: Otis Taylor Band
July 19, 7pm: David Lindley
August 9, 7pm: Wu Man, James Makubuya, and Lee Knight
August 30, 7pm: Tony Trischka
September 20, 7pm: Bob Carlin & Cheick Hamala Diabaté
October 18, 7pm: Mark Johnson & Emory Lester
October 25, 7pm: Dan Levenson

Note the programming includes some of the biggest names in the banjo world, like Alison Brown (a San Diego native) who, in collaboration with banjo innovator Béla Fleck, won the 2000 Grammy for Best Country Instrumental Performance, participated in Alison Krauss’s Grammy-winning album I’ve Got That Old Feeling, received a Grammy nomination for her recording, Simple Pleasures (1990), and in 2001 won the Grammy Award for Best Country Instrumental Performance for her song “Leaving Cottondale.” Alison Brown was the IBMA Banjo Player of the Year in 1991.

Also appearing are banjo masters Bill Evans and Tony Trischka, performers at the very top of the banjo world, along with Sammy Shelor, IBMA Banjo Player of the Year in 1995, ’96, ’97, ’98, and 2012, and winner of the $50,000 Steve Martin Banjo Award. Sammy is appearing with his band the Lonesome River Band. Do yourself a favor and google all the names on this list—you’ll be stunned at the talent coming to the NAMM Museum in Carlsbad.

This is an exhibit you will want to visit more than once to enjoy the displays and historical information and to catch as many of the great appearances as possible. The Museum describes the exhibition as “…a compelling and triumphant story about ‘America’s instrument.’”

Today the banjo is nearly everywhere. It’s played on children’s television, late-night television and at the World Series. Grammy winning artists, famous comedians and international megastars place the banjo at the center of their acts. Today, the “happy instrument” is so popular, a Google search for “banjo lessons” turns up nearly four million hits in 0.25 seconds.

“How did that happen? How did the banjo emerge from the plains of West Africa to plantations in the American South? How did it survive the disturbing years of minstrelsy and eventually thrive under the bright lights of country, folk, and bluegrass? And finally how did the instrument break from its traditional roots to influence nearly every genre of American popular music, from jazz to rock, from funk to punk?

“Accompanied by an impressive array of historical instruments as well as those made by today’s companies large and small, the exhibition tells a story of how music is made in America. …how all elements of the industry — musicians, manufacturers, dealers, consumers, songwriters, and publishers — interact in a musical ecosystem centered on the banjo.” Visit the Museum

Julian Family Fiddle Camp. Coming April 9-13 is the Julian Family Fiddle Camp with top notch instruction in fiddle, mandolin, guitar, old-time banjo, acoustic upright bass and Appalachian flatfoot dance. Held at beautiful Camp Ceder Glen in the mountains outside Julian and providing room and board, the Julian Family Fiddle Camp has become one of the premier music camp experiences anywhere in the West. Check out all the details at There is still time to sign up, and don’t forget the great evening concerts open to the public.

Spring Camp Out. Mark your calendars for the annual Spring Bluegrass Camp Out to be held again this year at the KOA Campground in Chula Vista over the weekend of April 18-20. To sign up email Phil Levy at: There will be great jamming, a pot luck, and other activities. All ages welcome.

Continue Reading