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  • Conversations with North American Banjo Builders DVD Set Provides a Glimpse into the Workshops of a Musical Tradition (out 11/13/15)

    On November 13, 2015, Smithsonian Folkways will release Conversations with North American Banjo Builders, a 4-volume, 12-DVD set depicting the living history of one of the most iconic instruments in North American folk music. Produced and provided to Smithsonian Folkways by filmmaker Craig Evans, each episode profiles a particular working builder and highlights the workshop, production techniques, and finished banjos. The four volumes are “Banjo Builders East of the Mississippi” (1), “Banjo Builders West of the Mississippi” (2), “Conversations with Historians” (3), and “Even More Builders” (4). The Series presents luthiers from one of four banjo styles: gourd, minstrel, traditional, and modern.

    Watch Conversations with North American Banjo Builders trailer here:

    The four banjo types addressed in the films punctuate the vast variety in musical tones, playing styles, and histories of the instrument. The gourd style evolved from instruments like the kora and akonting, with carved gourd bodies and mellow string tones, which provided inspiration for the original banjos in North America. These reproductions of old world instruments were soon manifest through the minstrel banjo, which was associated with American minstrel shows of the 19th century and provided the inspiration for the modern “clawhammer” and “frailing” styles of playing.

    Through detailed interviews with popular builders, this 2011 film series sheds light on traditional manufacturing techniques like steam bending, while also examining both obscure and cutting-edge techniques. Watch how Jeff Kramer of Cloverlick Banjos employs hand-rolled tone rings to complement the overall pitch and resonance of the instrument, or travel to Ontario where Luke Mercier has made what he calls the “Violjo,” with an oversize viola scroll headstock. Learn nature’s essential role in the building process with Glenn Carson, who sets up his mobile workshop in forests near running water, and see how younger generations such as Pisgah Banjos, who use local and sustainable woods from North Carolina, are carrying on the tradition.

    Produced by Craig Evans and Frailinflix Productions, the series will now receive full distribution via Smithsonian Folkways Recordings and add to an already extensive focus on the banjo that includes 343 albums, 11 videos, 4 lesson plans for educators, and the film Talking Feet which documents different types of solo Southern dance.

    "I've always wanted to talk to banjo builders, not only to learn what makes a great banjo, but to understand what it is that makes these people so passionate about this instrument. As a 60th birthday present to myself, I decided to give myself permission to do just that. And therein lies my big adventure.” - Craig Evans

    "Fascinatingly personal." - No Depression

    "It's a safe bet that this documentary will be talked about for a long time to come." - Banjo News

    East of Mississippi Builders: Bill Rickard, Jason Burns, Jeff Menzies, Greg Galbreath, Pete Ross, Bart Reiter, Lo Gordon and Tim Bardner, George Wunderlich, Mike Ramsey, Will Fielding, Chuck Lee, Kevin Enoch Doug Unger and Jim Hartel.

    West of Mississippi Builders: John Bowlin, Greg Deering, Bob Flesher, Brooks Masten, Jason Mogi, Chuck Ogsbury, Mark Platin, Doc (Patrick) Huff, Jason and Pharis Romero, Bob Thornburg and Colin Vance.

    Historians, Performers, Teachers, and Private Collection Tours: Greg Adams, Laurent Dubois, Peter Szego and Friends Banjo Collection Tour, Bob Winans, Bob Carlin, CeCe Conway, Jim Bollman Banjo Collection Tour, Kevin Fore, Ulf Jagfors, Taj Mahal, Dwight Diller, Adam Hurt.

    Additional Banjo Builders: David Ball, Noah Booth, Glenn Carson, Randy Cordle, Jeff Delfield, Wyatt Fawley, Patrick Heavner, Dan Knowles, Jeff Kramer, Ken LeVan, Luke Mercier and Mac Traynham.

    Conversations with North American Banjo Builders DVD Set Provides a Glimpse into the Workshops of a Musical Tradition (out 11/13/15) | Smithsonian Folkways Recordings