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 includes just a handful of concerts, one of which is at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15, at The Palms Playhouse, 13 Main St. in Winters.
The California Banjo Extravaganza, which debuted at The Palms a year ago, is the brainchild of Bay Area-based banjoist Evans. In seeking a new way to showcase leading banjoists and their music along with fostering collaboration, Evans hit on the new idea. He would bring banjoists together once a year, mix in a backing band of select bluegrass musicians pulled from various top West Coast bluegrass bands and hit the road in Northern California for a few prime shows.
Shelor has obviously come a long since he was 4 and started playing a banjo that his grandfather made for him out of a pressure cooker lid. Later, he earned a store-bought banjo from his other grandfather by learning to play tunes, but Shelor’s drive, talent, love of the instrument and enjoyment in playing and innovating 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 popular Lonesome River Band.
At first glance, Trischka may appear to be fairly quiet and unassuming — but when he starts to play, the lightning-fast rolls and runs and spirited music that he 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.
Evans is a dynamic musician who can fuse styles of music together both inventively and seamlessly. Firmly rooted in bluegrass, he 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.
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.
Tickets are $25 and are available at Armadillo Music in Davis, Watermelon Music in Woodland, Pacific Ace Hardware in Winters and at the door if not sold out. For more information, visit palmsplayhouse.com, sammyshelor.com, tonytrischka.com and billevansbanjo.com.