A five-stringed marvel steeped in tradition took centre stage in Midland Saturday.
Area residents arrived at the Midland Cultural Centre to pay homage to the banjo during the first-ever Banjofest Midland.
“I enjoy the bright sound you get from it,” said Douglas Richard Sinclair, a member of the Red River Ramblers, which led an afternoon workshop at the Midland Cultural Centre.
“There are so many styles of music and such variety you can play with the banjo.”
Sinclair said that bright sound also ensures players can enjoy the instrument anywhere.
“You don’t need electricity so you can play with others in the kitchen or outside,” he said.
Sinclair and other banjo aficionados said events like Banjofest are great for not just those who already adore the instrument, but also increase its appreciation.
“With us performing here, it also allows us to compare notes with other players,”
Ramblers’ fiddle player Nathan Smith said the event also serves to illustrate the various styles of banjo playing from traditional finger-picking to the clawhammer technique.
“There are very different approaches to the instrument,” he said, noting that for many, the most famous banjo song of all time would be Dueling Banjos from the dark tale Deliverance.
“It’s like the Freebird of banjo music,” Smith joked, referring to the Lynyrd Skynyrd classic that ends with dueling lead guitars.
“Even within the worlds of bluegrass and other styles like Celtic, there’s something for everyone with the banjo.”
Smith said the Cohen brothers’ film O Brother, Where Art Thou? helped bring about a new incarnation of enthusiasm for Bluegrass and traditional roots music.
“A lot of people were drawn to that sound,” he said.
Sinclair agreed, pointing out instrument has also been popularized in recent years by Mumford and Sons and comedian/actor Steve Martin.
“But it still remains true to its roots,” said Sinclair, who has been playing banjo since 2014 after initially picking up the guitar in 1999 at the age of nine.
“It goes through phases, but the core community can exist and continues to exist.”
Andrew Wagner-Chazalon travelled from Bracebridge for the event and enjoyed some time between workshops playing with Midland resident Snif Lawson, who brought along his 1927 Gibson model.
“I’m simply here to take it in,” said Wagner-Chazalon, who noted his appreciation for the five-stringed instrument just got stronger and stronger the more he played.
“I started going deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole. You have to be way more precise when playing it compared to the guitar. It forces you to practise because you’re always striving to be better.”
Lawson joked that while he’s been playing for 30 years, it never seems long enough because there’s always something new to master.
“I always liked bluegrass and country music,” he said. “This keeps me occupied and keeps me out of trouble.”