This year’s sweeping cancellations of events caused a near complete shut-down of banjo gatherings. It was in this void that Sean Moyses and Banjo Sjoerd stepped up and organized The Global Online Banjo Festival (GOBF). In the face of challenging times and limitations, the festival surpassed expectations and showed the possibilities of a new kind of gathering.
The sheer diversity of music in one festival was astonishing. The pizza parlor revival style of 1920’s songs was well represented without overshadowing other classic styles or making new sounds seem out of place. Each set showcased the artists specialties, including offerings of classical music, ragtime, 1900’s classic banjo, Irish, Brazilian, Mexican, New Orleans, and other various forms of banjo jazz. Usually we hear the same songs many, many times. Nobody really noticed, but there were only two songs repeated. Can you guess which ones?
Six Full Hours of Banjo Music
Opening the event was 30 minutes of the most inspiring waiting music; a playlist of excellent recordings made by participants to warm everyone up. Then Bill Dendle from Sacramento, California, USA kicked off the video performances with his fine-tuned Aida plectrum, and a choice set of beautiful melodies. Bill playing Kern’s “All the Things You Are,” started as a warm ballad and built into a swinging display of banjo groove . From Arizona, USA, Rob Wright sang and played his VegaVox plectrum with Sean Moyses’ tasteful backing tracks to deliver the old favorites we love. His “Al Jolson Medley” included Baby Face, Four Leaf Clover, California Here I Come, and Swanee, just to name a few.
Banjo Mashu from Japan was not able to record a video, but sent a compilation of wonderful live performances. This gave us a chance to remember what an audience is like and experience tasteful classic banjo rags like, “That’s A Banjo Rag” and classical numbers like “Flight Of The Bumblebee.” Brad Roth sat in a nice large hall with his 1929 VegaVox I reverberating echos of Eddie Peabody with a dynamic modern touch. This sophisticated and riveting set included a mix of some lesser known songs, and crowd pleasers like a dynamite arrangement of “I’ve Got Rhythm.” Scott Whitfield from Dallas, Texas, USA gave us a couple old chestnuts and stirred it up with some great original songs like “I’m Gonna Boogie On Down To Big Bend” on his tenor, or “West Texas Highway” with his plectrum.
One of our fine hosts we owe it all to is Sean Moyses from March, Cambridge, UK. He showed off his Pietch Mastervox #7 and gave an entertaining authentic demonstration of the art of four-string banjo. Composers like Berlin, Grimshaw, and Reser were heard, as well as a faithful instrumental tribute to Peabody’s “St. Louis Blues.”
Arno Hagenaars from Holland had hurt his wrist, so he sent in two videos he had made with flautist Bianca Jonkers. Arno’s lightning style is one-of-a-kind and it shined tastefully in tunes like the Brazilian “Tico Tico.” There was a slight intermission from the music with a reading from the book “Man with the Banjo” by Eddie Peabody’s grandson Edwin Peadbody. As we watched a slideshow of treasures including photos and newspaper clippings, we heard about Eddie’s life in a voice that was distinctly of the Peabody family.
Another Hollander, Tom Stuip, dazzled us all with an entire set of Sidney Bechet tunes. All were accompanied by piano, and a couple with accordion from Tom’s wife. Switching from his VegaVox to his Silver Bell, Tom showed some wonderful expressive knee mute technique on “Passport to Paradise.” Also from Holland was our other host, Banjo Sjeord (Sjeord van Ravenzwaaij) with his band The Jolly Gents. The presentation here was quite special. The two gents sat on stage in a beautiful church with colorful lights and multiple camera angles while they played banjo/accordion duets with a certain dignified whimsey. Sjeord took his Irish tuned Pietsch tenor on a trip from Bach, to Reser, to some Irish Hornpipes, and then picked up a dazzling 5-string Pietsch for Ollie Oakle’s “Dashwood Quickstep.”
It was here where we were going to watch a short documentary Sjeord made about Norbert Pietch, whose banjos were scattered throughout the professional banjoists hands this festival. Some technical difficulties ensued, but the video is now available online.
Ken Aoki from Tokyo, Japan took his Paramount Style C Banjo for a spin and gave us a most lively version of Reser’s “Lollypops.” His performance was highly anticipated, and while the crowd may have been left wanting more, Ken delivered what they came to see. One set that stood out for many was Steve Di Bonavetura on tenor banjo, with Steve Giordano on guitar. The two Steves gave us a taste of real improvisation as the sensitive musicians played modern jazz tunes (50’s-70’s), like Jobim’s Bossa-Nova classic “Wave.”
A designated pick-me-up performance of sing-a-long songs in the style of George Fomby performed by Derek Herbert was filled with fun music and costume changes. The song “Bowler Cap My Grandad Left For Me” was the complete audio/visual experience. Coming from Germany, Cristoph Cringle was a new name to many in the audience. His sharp versions of ragtime, classical, and film themes like “Lara’s Theme” from Dr. Zhivago proved to be an intriguing mix of excellent music. The hosts Sean Moyses and Banjo Sjoerd recorded two very fun split screen duets, “Maple Leaf Rag” and “Ragging the Scale.” Gregory Mulkern from Seattle, Washington, USA is also known as Banjolectric. Using his 5-string banjo, he looped melodies and percussion with his banjo as well as voice to create some very original music. This may have come out of left field, but it was welcomed with open ears.
Perhaps we should call Steve Peterson “The Banjo’s Right-Hand Man” because his right hand work is like butter. From a living room in Sacramento, California, Steve churned out classics like “Somebody Stole My Gal” in his tasteful style that makes you want to go along for the ride. Mr. Smooth himself, Dave Marty, is another Californian who represents plectrum banjo at it’s best. Always a musicians’ favorite, Dave played “Ballin the Jack” like nobody’s business. From his home in Arizona, Howard Alden let his 7-string guitar sit in the background while he flew around on his OME tenor. He played a mighty set of six jazz and ragtime tunes, including some fine vocals and playing on the ballad “Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans.”
Further down south in Sierra Vista, Arizona was plectrum banjoist Ron Hinkle. The work of Emile Grimshaw is one of Ron’s passions, and we heard a couple of those tunes come to life plus Bert Bassett’s “Lazy Rhythm.” To close off the night was Tyler Jackson from Texas, USA playing a banjo built by another Texan Vinnie Mondello. Many are aware of what an incredible musician Tyler is and would not be surprised to find him closing the festival. He surprised us though right away by adding his voice to the performance singing tunes in his “20’s Medley,” before letting his banjo do the singing on a splendid “Georgia On My Mind.”
The event concluded with an afterglow zoom meeting, where the audience and performers got to catch up and chat a little bit face to face. It was a great way to round things off and personally thank the hosts that made it all happen.
Benefits of an Online Festival
With the limitations of this year’s pandemic staring them in the face, the organizers made an amazing event that left the audience with an authentic, giddy, banjo festival feeling. The online platform allowed the audience and performers from all over the world to attend for free. Everyone was in control of their own environment and their own sound. Without having multiple stages, the music was churned out continuously. Now that the video available online, folks can go back for something they missed, or re-watch something they especially liked.
Limitations and Room for Improvement
This event was the first of its kind, and seems clear by it’s success that it won’t be the last. The afterglow event allowed some space for ideas and comments about more GOBFs. The zoom platform could also be a way to offer workshops for future online gatherings. While this was the most accessible show ever, providing on multiple platforms like YouTube could expand the audience. There will be more discussions on ways to tip or promote the artists during festivals, and ways to insure inclusion and diversity of performers. This event however, will always be remembered as the top-notch program of banjo entertainment we all needed. Oh those songs that were repeated? Lollypops and Maple Leaf Rag.
(aka Windy Boijen)
*The next online Global Online Banjo Festival will be on the weekend of January 22-24, 2021. Follow “Global Online Banjo Community” on facebook to find out more.