Music is for Everone – Why I love Banjos

Most people like music. But most people don’t do music. I hope I’m not stereotyping the whole of American society here, but whether the suburbs did it or the Internet did it or whatever it was did it – we’ve lost a lot of the shared experience of doing music together and are pretty much exclusive consumers of the stuff.

Think about the times that “non-musical” people do sing in public just for fun. They are almost always drinking or in junior high. In either case, they’re tapped further into their true messy humanity than the rest of us, and they are having a wonderful time. But we’re afraid to do this ‘in real life’ because A) someone might judge us and B) we at some point collectively decided that singing songs with friends or family is a stupid way to spend free time.

Folk music means music of folk, music of the people. But when we say it now, we usually refer to a specific kind of music associated with a specific group of people or a specific period of time. When we think of American folk music, we’re thinking of something very particular, and even though it’s pretty cool, most of us see it as a novelty or as a hobby of those in that particular musical scene.

But we like it.

Note the recent rock(ish) renaissance of the banjo. I don’t think it’s only because of hipsters (though they’ve surely helped). I think it’s because the banjo lets us access access a musical feeling that we don’t touch anywhere else (maybe some churches, but then you have to be on good behavior).

The banjo is approachable, inviting, humble, democratic. Would this happen with an electric guitar or anything autotuned?

Look how happy that crowd is! They are having a fantastic time. This is folk music not because of the instrument but because of the crowd. It does not matter at ALL how good of a singer you are. And I want more of it.

I want to revive folk music. Real folk music. I don’t care if it’s Seeger or Gaga – if you’re singing it in your house or your yard with people you know and like, then it is folk music and it is awesome.


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