Is That Sheldon Silver Playing the Banjo?
NY Banjo: A Five-String Summit
Review by Paul Jossman
1000 banjo geeks filled the Hart Theatre at The Egg for the long-awaited (was it really 10 years?) return of the NY Banjo Summit – a collection of the many of the country’s most accomplished and influential five-string banjo players who happen to reside in or have strong ties to New York State. The line-up consisted of: Bela Fleck, Bill Keith, Eric Weissberg, Mac Benford, Pete Wernick, Richie Stearns and Tony Trischka. Wow!
For people with only a passing interest in banjo music, it’s fair to say that they might think it all sounds alike. The banjo is considered a limited, “happy instrument” and not one’s first choice if planning to write music that was going to, oh shall we say, plunge headlong into the inky depths of the crippled American spirit. This limiting characterization is ridiculous, and this sold-out show blew it right out of the water.
S. Brian Willson spoke at the Sanctuary for Independent Media last Friday night supporting the recent publication of his book “Blood on the Tracks.” The title of the book refers to the horrific incident on September 1, 1987 when he was run over by a munitions train whose operators, on that day, were ordered not to stop for the protest demonstrators who had been blocking the tracks for the past several months.
Like thousands of young men from his generation he was a “good boy,” followed the rules, believed what he was taught and prospered in the system. While serving as a 27-year-old naval officer in Vietnam in the late ’60s he experienced his first doubts when sent to assess the success of bombing missions. He realized that pilots were bombing civilians, mostly children, in fishing villages with the dead then added to the enemy “body count” to shore up the political story back in the US. His realization that he was part of, and complicit in, a “genocide machine” started him on a passage of resistance and self discovery that continues to this day. His activities and discoveries along the way are the subject of his book.
I saw Peppino D’Agostino at the Woman’s Club of Albany and sat immediately next to Paul Rapp, who was reviewing the show for Metroland. Since we saw essentially the same show, I will simply refer reader to his review. However, since I left at intermission, to be fair, I request that people only read the first half of his review.
Over 65 years of playing music, Ralph Stanley has risen through the ranks of old time music and now, quite deservedly, serves as its eldest statesman with a Biblical Authority attributed to him by his many fans and admirers.
He was always well known in the old time and bluegrass community, where he had already been conferred first name status and was simply referred to as “Ralph” – others who achieved this exaulted status were “Earl” (Earl Scruggs) and “Bill” (Bill Monroe). The unexpected success of the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” featuring his a cappella rendition of the traditional “O Death,” finally exposed him to a world wide audience at the age of 75.
This book, written with music journalist Eddie Dean, is Ralph’s narration of his life presented in his “plain old words” rather than “correct and proper English.” This conceit seems artificial at first, but as the pages go by the reader gets used to it. And in most cases, it fits the story being told. It’s the whole story, from his immediate ancestors up to the present time with lots of great details, stories and people. And what a great story it is.
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