• author
    • Kate Laddish

    • November 14, 2013 in Columnists

    Banjo Extravaganza taking NorCal by twangy storm

    Move over, “Dueling Banjos,” and make way for the Second Annual California Banjo Extravaganza! Featuring Sammy Shelor, Tony Trischka and Bill Evans on five-string banjos and a back-up band packed with some of the country’s best pickers, this show promises to be a treat for fans of bluegrass and acoustic music. The California Banjo Extravaganza leaps into existence for just a handful of concerts; this year’s dates in the next few days stretch from the foothills to the coast.

    Tony Trischka, Sammy Shelor and Bill Evans are the featured banjoists in the 2013 California Banjo Extravaganza (courtesy photos)

    Tony Trischka, Sammy Shelor and Bill Evans are the featured banjoists in the 2013 California Banjo Extravaganza (courtesy photos)

    The California Banjo Extravaganza is the brainchild of Area-based banjoist Bill Evans. Seeking a new way to showcase leading banjoists and banjo music and to foster collaboration, Evans hit on the idea of bringing new groupings of banjoists together once a year, mix in a backing band of select bluegrass musicians pulled from various top West Coast bluegrass bands, stir, and hit the road in Northern California for a few prime shows. This year’s featured banjoists, in addition to Evans, are Sammy Shelor and Tony Trischka.

    Sammy Shelor has obviously come a long way since he was four and started playing a banjo that his grandfather made for him out of a pressure cooker lid, but Shelor’s drive, talent, love of the instrument and frank enjoyment in playing remain strong. Shelor, a five-time winner of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s (IBMA) Banjo Player of The Year and the second winner of the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass, can usually be found fronting the enduringly popular Lonesome River Band.

    At first glance, Tony Trischka may appear to be fairly quiet and unassuming—but when he starts to play, the lightening-fast rolls and runs and spirited music that Trischka coaxes and launches from his banjo repaint that picture into one of a deeply creative musician of prodigious talent. With collaborations ranging from bluegrass (Ralph Stanley, Alison Krause, Steve Martin) to rock (Bruce Springsteen, The Violent Femmes), Trischka has expanded the banjo’s reach in music and popular culture tremendously and deserves his due of credit for moving the banjo from the maligned sidelines back into its place in music. Dubbed “…the godfather of what’s sometimes called new acoustic music” by The New York Times and hailed as “one of the most impressive banjoists alive,” by Billboard, Trischka has won numerous awards and a devoted following amongst fans and fellow musicians.

    Bill Evans is a dynamic musician who can fuse styles of music together both inventively and seamlessly. Firmly rooted in bluegrass, Evans deftly mixes both traditional and progressive bluegrass with occasional dashes of jazz, classical and world music that whiz by in a flurry of notes or blend into plaintive melodies. Evans’ enthusiastic exploration of the history of the banjo in America and its roots in Africa is also evident in his playing. None other than Tony Trischka said, “To be able to add an indelible mark to the whole history of the instrument is getting ridiculous. High kudos to Bill Evans.”

    The band backing the veritable wall of banjos is a who’s-who of top West Coast bluegrass and acoustic music pickers and singers, several of whom are headliners in their own right: John Reischman on mandolin (John Reischman & The Jaybirds), Jim Nunally on guitar (David Grisman Bluegrass Experience, John Reischman & The Jaybirds), Sharon Gilchrist on bass (The Peter Rowan & Tony Rice Quartet; Uncle Earl), and Chad Manning on fiddle (David Grisman Bluegrass Experience, Laurie Lewis & The Right Hands).

    With these seven remarkable musicians on stage weaving music new and old into never-before heard configurations, the evening promises to be a treat for fans of bluegrass and acoustic music—and, of course, an absolute delight for devotees of the freewheeling sound of the banjo.

    The California Banjo Extravaganza debuted at The Palms Playhouse (13 Main Street in Winters) last year, and will return to The Palms at 8 p.m. on Friday November 15. Tickets are $25 and are available at Pacific Ace Hardware in Winters, Armadillo Music in Davis, Watermelon Music in Woodland and at the door if not sold out. For more information, visit palmsplayhouse.com, sammyshelor.com, tonytrischka.com and billevansbanjo.com.

    Second Annual California Banjo Extravaganza’s schedule:
    ~ Thursday November 14 – The Center For The Arts, Grass Valley, CA
    ~ Friday November 15 – The Palms Playhouse, Winters, CA
    ~ Saturday November 16 (afternoon) – Mini-Camp at The Freight & Salvage, Berkeley, CA
    ~ Saturday November 16 (evening) – The Freight & Salvage, Berkeley, CA
    ~ Sunday November 17 — Don Quixote’s International Music Hall, Felton, CA

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