Banjo virtuoso Tony Trischka coming to Next Stage
Tony Trischka and his band will be at Next Stage on Aug. 22.

Banjo virtuoso Tony Trischka coming to Next Stage

PUTNEY — International Bluegrass Music Association Banjo Player of the Year Tony Trischka will be bringing his banjo playing to Vermont when Next Stage Arts Project and Twilight Music present an evening of banjo music.

On Friday, Aug. 22, at 7:30 p.m. at Next Stage, Trischka will be performing with his band which includes Grant Gordy on guitar, who has played with David Grisman; Mike Barnett on fiddle, recently of the Deadly Gentlemen; and Ethan Jodziewicz on bass, the sought-after session musician and ensemble player.

They will be joined by the double banjo bluegrass quartet Hot Mustard. This Vermont/New Hampshire-based quartet was the Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival band competition winner and features hard-driving double banjos, close harmonies and old-time fiddle tunes.

Hot Mustard features on banjo and vocals Bruce Stockwell, a member of newgrass/folk trio The Stockwell Brothers, and the winner of the 2005 Merlefest bluegrass banjo contest. The other members of the group include April Hobart on guitar and vocals, Bill Jubett on banjo, fiddle and vocals, and Kelly Stockwell on acoustic bass.

Trischka has been called by The New York Times as “the godfather of what's sometimes called new acoustic music.” Billboard says he is “one of the most impressive banjoists alive.” Next Stage writes at its website that “Trischka's influence in igniting the world of progressive acoustic music permanently altered the face of American roots music. He has been a key figure in opening the banjo and acoustic music in general to wider influences.”

Trischka has appeared on “Late Night with David Letterman,” Garrison Keillor's “A Prairie Home Companion” and “Mountain Stage,” and is featured on the soundtrack of the film “Driving Miss Daisy' and the theme song of the NPR show “Books on the Air.” He has shared the stage and studio with the likes of Steve Martin, David Grisman, John Denver, The Boston Pops, Jorma Kaukonen, Sam Bush, Chris Thile, Peter Rowan, and Earl Scruggs.

In December 2012, Tony was awarded the United States Artists Friends Fellow in recognition of the excellence of his work.

Now living in New Jersey, Trischka grew up in Syracuse, N.Y.

“When I was a teenager, I wrote a lot of protest songs, which I first played on guitar and later the banjo,” he says. “This was the period of the folk music craze, and you might say I was in my social consciousness phase.”

Trischka took up the banjo in 1963 after hearing the The Kingston Trio hit, “Charlie on the MTA,” the tale of a man named Charlie trapped on Boston's subway system. The Kingston Trio, one of the most prominent groups of the era's pop-folk boom, featured a banjo.

“As a child I had studied flute, piano and guitar,” says Trischka, “all the instruments of a classical music education. But it wasn't until I played folk guitar did I feel at home. After hearing the banjo on 'MTA,' I hounded my parents until they got me a banjo of my own. I found it to be a pretty easy transition from guitar to banjo, although they are very different instruments.”

In 1965, he joined the Down City Ramblers and made his recording debut on 15 Bluegrass Instrumentals with the band Country Cooking. Throughout his long career, he has performed with and founded numerous bands, and even was part of an electric band for a while. But the main emphasis of his music-making has always been the banjo.

Forging a professional career out of an often marginalized instrument as the banjo might seem a difficult task, but Trischka says things have “somehow always worked out.”

“I envision my career like Goofy in a Mickey Mouse cartoon I remember from my youth,” he explains. “In it, Goofy is sleepwalking on the girders of a skyscraper that is being built. He is up about a hundred floors, and just as he is about to walk off the edge, another girder is put in place to keep him from falling. That's how things have been for me.”

Trischka believes his career has been so successful may be because he is versatile. “If perhaps I had rigidly stuck to one kind of music, I may have had less success,” he says. “I do not just play bluegrass, but do other kinds of music as well. I have performed with orchestras and in jazzy situations. And on top of that I have my teaching.”

Trischka is not only considered among the most innovative of banjo players, he is one of its most respected and sought-after instructors. Acclaimed American banjo player Bela Fleck was one of his early students.

He has created 15 instructional books as well as a series of DVDs. In 2009, he launched the groundbreaking Tony Trischka School of Banjo, an advanced, interactive, online instructional site that is the banjo home for students from around the world.

“My online school has over 200 video lessons,” he says. “Teaching banjo online works out quite well. Students can watch videos and are able to send me their own videos of themselves playing which I can then critique.”

At Next Stage, Trischka will be playing selections from his latest album, “Great Big World,” on Rounder Records which was released February, 2014.

Unusual for Trischka, on this album he has written words to some of his banjo music. He got the idea while working on an album of Civil War songs, which inspired him to go back to songwriting again, like years ago when he was a fledgling protest singer in Syracuse.

“I felt the music I was playing needed some lyrics,” he says. “The world needs no more solo banjo tunes.”

Rounder Records have given Trischka a generous budget to make this album. “Without restrictions, I could make the kind of album I wanted,” he says. “With collaboration on it from the likes of Steve Martin and John Goodman, I guess you could say this is my actors' record.”

Trischka has been with Rounder Records since 1971, which has released every one of his albums except his first. “You could call Rounder my big squeeze,” he jokes. “But the industry is changing. It gets tougher and tougher to get music made, so I am holding my breath for what may come next.”

Trischka has performed many times in Vermont, and always enjoys coming to this state.

“I really love Vermont,” he says. “I am not just saying that because Vermonters read The Commons. I truly believe it. I mean it is a state that has no highway billboards. What else is there to say?”

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