Quantcast

Homegrown Banjo Breakdown

If you hang out on PDD or Facebook or the corner of Lake Avenue and Superior Street long enough, you’ll hear a Duluth musician complain about how many banjos there are in the local music scene. Personally, I’ve heard Duluth referred to as “the banjo capital of the world,” and I’ve heard people say — not even jokingly — that it’s almost impossible to spend a night in the local music venues without hearing a banjo. On one hand, I understand what they are saying, but on the other hand, it seems like tremendous hyperbole.

The purpose of this post is to try and figure out, as accurately as possible, the percentage of bands playing Homegrown that feature a banjo, and to discuss whether or not that percentage is an excessive amount of banjos.

Consulting with Paul Lundgren and the Homegrown Field Guide, this is the list of known banjo players performing at this year’s festival. Please help fill out this list with any omissions, if you can find them. But mind the rules: you must provide the banjo player’s name, and the band you reference must be playing this year’s Homegrown Music Festival.

1. Charlie Parr
2. Dave Carroll – Trampled by Turtles
3. Tom Maloney – Four Mile Portage
4. Shawn Neary – Silverback Colony
5. Harrison Olk – Tin Can Gin
6. Ryan LeBard – Black River Revue
7. Tony Peterson – Diet Folk
8. Tony Peterson – Saint Anyway
9. Jerree Small – Southwire
10. Marc Gartman – Coyote
11. Ben Butter – Punch the Driver
12. Ben Butter – De Se

That’s 12 so far. If there are 12 bands with banjos out of 186 bands total, that means 6.4 percent of the bands playing Homegrown have a banjo in them.

What are your thoughts on the banjo situation? Is this percentage as large as people make it out to be? If not, why does this false perception exist? If so, why do people choose to play the banjo, and why do people flock to see the bands that play them?

26 Comments

Shane Bauer

about 7 years ago

Although it doesn't add to the number of banjo players, Saint Anyway (Tony Peterson) would add another band to the list out of the 186 total. Perhaps the same is true with Gartman, adding more bands with banjos to the list? And so maybe we just have a higher than usual percentage of banjo players who play in multiple bands around here?

And surely there must be a banjo hidden in Sexhawk somewhere.

K. Praslowicz

about 7 years ago

Rumor has it that down in Scandia, in the catacombs beneath Gammelgården, there is a secret project to engineer a double bass sized banjo that will be adorned with totally brutal spikes, drop tuned and debuted at the Sexhawk show. Mark my words.

Icantbelieveitsnotben

about 7 years ago

To add to the list:

Ben Butter- Punch The Driver, De Se


I play banjo, so I may not be the most neutral source, but I don't think there are "too many banjos" in Duluth. Yes, it should be quite obvious to most that our population seems to respond best to folk, bluegrass, blues, and singer-songwriter types of music, which does tend to feature banjos more frequently than say, grindcore or EDM, but I would be quite shocked to find we have significantly more banjos per capita than anywhere else (Pacific Northwest anyone?).

How about we get a banjo brigade going? 30 people walking down the street or standing in a park playing banjo together would be both fun, community edifyin', and a tourist attraction.

DaVe

about 7 years ago

I agree, it's hyperbole. And it seems quite a few folks around here play their banjos like a guitar. That is, with a flatpick. Irish tenor banjos are played with a flatpick , but it seems odd that more than a few Duluth banjo players play 5 string banjos  in that unusual way. Not saying it's wrong, just "different."

Barrett Chase

about 7 years ago

I think it's legit to add several bands featuring the same banjo player, so I've added Saint Anyway, Punch the Driver, and De Se. 

To the best of my knowledge, Gartman's only bands this year are Coyote and Fever Dream, the latter of which definitely does not feature a banjo.

Lawrence Lee

about 7 years ago

I believe there either needs to be a band called "The Banjo Situation" or a tract by that name that I can hand out on street corners during Homegrown.

emmadogs

about 7 years ago

For what it's worth, I am ignorant on local music (something I'm trying to rectify), and the only musician I personally know is a violin/banjo player.  He's played bluegrass at Big Top, I think.

edgeways

about 7 years ago

Hyperbole born out of the likelihood there is a greater percentage of banjo players/bands in the area. But, eh. At one point banjos were the instrument to play, now they are not and some panties are in a wad because ... what? There aren't more guitars? Guitars are the hegemony nowadays. 

Don't like banjos, fantastic, learn to play something else and take it to the streets.

banjo tom

about 7 years ago

Brilliant thread.  Love the brigade idea - I'm in.

Four Mile Portage is one band with three claw-hammer banjo players: Tom Maloney, Bonnie Hundrieser, and Kyle Ollah.  All of which will be featured in Monday's set often two at a time.

I don't know if Kyle plays banjo in Yester.

TimK

about 7 years ago

I consider the music that I do closely related to the banjo. Traditionally, if you wanted a banjo, you built one yourself. Given that all of my instruments are of my own construction,  the weirdo "smooth industrial" music I create is genetically descended from the banjo. Add me to your banjo list...

DaVe

about 7 years ago

Tim, in that you have a round head with skin stretched over it, you might be a banjo.

moosetracks

about 7 years ago

I feel like a good follow up would be to figure out how many upright bass players there are in Duluth.

Adam S

about 7 years ago

I think the over-banjoed perception comes from the fact that the most well-known bands in Duluth over the past few years (TPT, Parr, Two Many Banjos) feature or regularly utilize it.

The numbers don't lie, it does appear like it is a misperception that we are over-banjoed, which I have believed myself previously. Thanks for correcting my erroneous ways.

I do believe the banjo, or uptempo bluegrass in general, has become comfort food for the white young adult crowd. It's fun. You can dance to it without having any dancing ability. It brings people to any establishment where it is played so that propagates itself.

I think the Surfactants have a song expressing their sentiments regarding Duluth's banjo saturation.

Paul Lundgren

about 7 years ago

Adam, you are thinking of Dirty Knobs and not the Surfactants, but you were close.

New Banjrone (Banjo/Drone) - Dirty Knobs "La Tortue Diabolique"



There is also "B-A-N-J-O" by Wino, Wisconsin.


Barrett Chase

about 7 years ago

I was just wondering about the trend in banjo music nationally, thinking about popular bands with banjos like Mumford & Sons and the Lumineers, when I realized that the Lumineers don't even have a banjo even though their image and style might lead you to believe otherwise.

I wonder if there's some of that going on locally, too. Like if your band has a mandolin or a ukelele, you might as well have a banjo.

Adam S

about 7 years ago

Paul, I have a distinct memory of a Homegrown performance by the Surfactants at Teatro Zuccone where the chorus of one song was repeating the line "Fuck your fucking banjos!" It made me chuckle. All trends will receive backlash.

Paul Lundgren

about 7 years ago

I see. So I'm getting anti-banjo sentiment confused. Maybe there's too much of that, then.

jayinduluth

about 7 years ago

Tony Petersen has three E's in his name - its not son.  The Homegrown Guide has his name spelled correctly.  Also, Tony has been known to play with Colleen Myhre, but I am not sure if he is for this year's Homegrown.

banjo tom

about 7 years ago

I, for one, would like a T-shirt with the above image.

greg cougar conley

about 7 years ago

Just to clarify: the Surfactants do not have a song that proclaims a hatred of banjos. The Homegrown moment being referenced in which singer Marcus Matthews proclaimed "fuck your fucking banjos" was an off-the-cuff addition to a song.

I wrote the Wino, Wi song "Banjo." The song is not really about a banjo, per se. It is actually about band wagon jumping. The fact is, before TBT and Charlie Parr became successful (both of whom are good at the banjo) banjo, bluegrass, newgrass, whatever you want to call it, was not popular. After they became big news, you had people coming out of the woodwork with banjos, hammered and unhammered dulcimers, acoustic guitars and goddamn washboards starting up groups that became popular because of what they were aping -- music played sincerely by people who were passionate about it. 

I do not happen to enjoy this kind of music, but my main problem with it is how insincere the copycats that came after the fact are. 

I think the word "banjo" has come to symbolize some of the disgust felt by myself and others at this trend.

DaVe

about 7 years ago

This post seems to have plucked a nerve. I love that Duluth has its own banjo symbology.

dky

about 7 years ago

A fun site for between-song banter material this week: bluegrassbanjo.org/banjokes

Paul Lundgren

about 7 years ago

The News Tribune Attic posted Homegrown Music Festival photos from throughout the years today. The only image from 1999 is this Josh Meltzer photo of Bryan "Lefty" Johnson playing bongos for Crazy Betty.



The mayor quipped on Facebook:

Ted Heinonen

about 7 years ago

It would seem that there is an ebb and flow of instrument popularity that goes on from time to time, and the banjo is currently the instrument right now. These past four decades of playing bluegrass in several regional bands it's nice to see a younger crowd take it up. I just wish they would either learn the Scruggs or old time 3-finger style or just get a six-string banjo and make it easier on themselves. But then that's just me and the Bluegrass Police speaking ... "Pick Away Everyone." 

graelon

about 7 years ago

A number of people posting in this thread have made very valid points.

The way I see it, if you don't like it that's fine. If you do, that's fine too. 

I guess I don't see the buzz (mostly positive) about banjo as being the real issue. It's more about the stereotype that Greg Cougar Conley explained. 

Sure bluegrass, string bands, old time, etc are trendy right now. These are established forms of music, a little weird to see blowing up in Duluth of all places, but why not? The trend will eventually die down as all trends do, but the music will not go away.

I started dabbling in banjo a few years back. I jumped right on the band wagon. I didn't know anything about the instrument or how to play it, but I was bored. 

Fast forward to today, I'm a bit distracted with other instruments. I didn't have the knack for it or the dedication, but I still have my poor neglected banjo I just don't make time for it. [Side note: I'm originally a guitarist]

To this day I love the banjo--not everyone who plays it or every song played on it. I think it's got a certain je ne sais quoi. I still enjoy picking it up once in a while when we're jamming, and I love listening to my buddy play his during band practice.

If you're overly concerned with what people like or exactly which instruments they're using: you're doing it wrong.

Leave a Comment

Only registered members can post a comment , Login / Register Here

Read previous post:
Where in Duluth?

Close