The Banjo Band Plays On

The Banjo Band poses for a group picture.

 

By Lisa Shell

grays harbor community hospitalThe Grays Harbor Banjo Band creates a foot stomping, hand clapping good ole time sound. It’s easy to find yourself “singing along” when the accordions, banjos, bass, clarinet, piano, mandolin, saxophone, tuba, washboard and washtub bucket bass start playing. With more than 21 members, this group of local musicians keeps the banjo spirit alive.

I was invited to band practice. This group of dedicated harborites meets every 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the month at 7:00 p.m. in the community room at Simpson Street School in Montesano. Upon arriving, I noticed a man carrying his tuba case. I followed him to the community room. The room was packed with musicians and spectators. A few fans sat in the back, one of which pointed me to an empty seat.

The Banjo Band rehearses for their next concert.
The Banjo Band rehearses for their next concert.

Three banjo players sat up front facing toward the rest of the band: Tom Shorey (president of the band), and Jim and Marilyn Redding (music director). I recognized Marilyn. She is an original member of the band, established in the mid 1960s by “Four String Hall of Fame” inductee Myron Hinkle. For almost 50 years Marilyn taught piano lessons in her home five days a week, “moonlighting” at night with the banjo band.

I remember Marilyn and her husband Jim because they used to play at Sourdough Lil’s, “a restaurant with sawdust on the bar floor” that my folks owned and operated. When she smiled at me it sparked a memory. I was perhaps 18 at the time. We lived upstairs above the establishment. I was laying in my bedroom, located just above the bar, and I could hear the audience downstairs singing along with the band. I always loved falling asleep to that sound. So it was no surprise that I felt a bit emotional and nostalgic as I sat in the room and listened to the band practice for their next big show. I had to force the tears back because I, just like plenty of you, have fond memories of those times.

Currently, the band is practicing for the 2014 Western Washington Four-String Banjo Festival. Banjo clubs from all over the Northwest unite for a weekend that is sure to be uplifting and fun for all. Northwest banjo clubs take turns playing during the three day event. They gather together for a big show on Saturday from 2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. The public is welcome to attend. This year’s event is sponsored by The Tacoma Banjo Club and takes place at the Little Creek Casino, June 6 through 8.

After practice, a few members invited me to their next gig at Channel Point Village. A week later I drove to Hoquiam to interview members and listen to the concert. The musicians wore black pants, white shirts, and satin burgundy colored vests. They staged their instruments and chairs. Bev Brown greeted me and told me about which musician plays what instrument. She plays a  five-string banjo. The five-string banjo is a traditional instrument used to play bluegrass and American old-time music. Most of the other banjo players use a tenor or plectrum banjo. The band currently has three members younger than age 25. They are Rebekah, Sarah and Stephen Cowles.

The Banjo Band poses for a group picture.
The Banjo Band poses for a group picture.

Stephen’s mom Mikki told me a story about how, when it was time for him to play an instrument, he didn’t want to play piano like his two sisters. They both took piano lessons from Marilyn.  Stephen wanted to play the banjo. As it turned out, Marilyn gave Stephen his first banjo lesson.  He’s been playing for more than seven years. He and his two sisters have also formed their own trio.  All of the members are excited about the banjo band’s two cd’s, “The Codfish Ball” and “By the Sea.”

Current band president, Tom Shorey, said, “I like being in the band because the music is uplifting and fun to play.” He is most excited about making other people happy and preserving music from the 1920-1940s era (pre World War II). He hopes to find and inspire a new generation interested in learning and teaching the four string banjo.

The band’s MC is Pete Darrah. With a joke, this washboard player got the event going and introduced the first song “Alabama Jubilee”, followed up with “Bye, Bye Birdie,” featuring a solo by Sarah Cowles. During the show Pete sang “Whispering,” which featured a duet by Rebekah Cowles and Bev Brown. My favorite song that night at Channel Point was “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.” Everyone sat up, got excited, and sang along.

If you would like to attend a concert,  join the band or learn more about the banjo, visit the band’s Facebook page or contact Tom Shorey for a current schedule at banjotom57@gmail.com.

 

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