As a living history reenactor over the years, I have spent a lot of time in the 19th Century. The picture above is my Trader's Tent at a Primitive Rendezvous. I must admit however, that as fascinating as the past is to visit, I wouldn't want to live there permanently. I am a creature of the present. I really like electricity, hot showers and the other benefits of indoor plumbing. Still, there are elements of the past century worth remembering.
Remembering what it is like to create something by hand. Remembering what it is like to live life deliberately before on-and-off switches, central heating and indoor plumbing. Remembering when all music was acoustic...
For me, it is really about connections. Understanding where we have been sheds light on the present and points the way forward. When making banjos, I feel the connection of history. When I make a fretless banjo by hand, I experience a link to a rich musical heritage.
The banjo in particular is an inextricable part of American folk music. The roots of this music are legion, yet the synthesis of cultural disparities in this art form is typical of how the "melting pot" transforms disparate cultures into something uniquely American. The banjo is the voice of an ancient African hunter-gatherer and the voice of the urban American performer of the industrial age. It is both the voice of the slave and the voice of the master.
With today’s revival of "roots" music the banjo is experiencing a rebirth. Putting aside steel strings, amplifiers and electronic enhancements, people are discovering the simple pleasures of natural acoustic sound.
Across time and space, the gut string minstrel banjo echoes the human experience singing a different song to each generation that is at once both familiar and yet unique. As we pluck its strings, we become part of an unending human chain. The fretless banjo sings to us at a visceral level connecting us to those who have gone before and creating a bridge to those who are yet to come.