Sometime in the early aughts, when I was a teenage, beginning banjo player in Marin County California, I walked into a Borders Books and Music looking for some musical inspiration. At that point, all I really knew how to play was a rudimentary version of the old-time standard Cripple Creek, and some basic three-finger rolls I’d gleaned from Pete Seeger’s classic primer 'How To Play the 5 String Banjo.' I remember there was a CD whose cover sleeve for some reason stood out among the rest. It was "On The Road" by the Country Gentlemen, and it happened to be a Smithsonian Folkways release.
That moment lead to a minor obsession with the Folkways catalog. My early infatuation with bluegrass soon led to a love affair with old time music, and the catalog certainly didn’t disappoint there. I fell head over heels for the New Lost City Ramblers and Pete’s brother Mike Seeger whose meticulous liner notes put me on a mission to listen to all of the source material on which they had based their performances. I went deep into Harry Smith’s anthology, field recordings, all kinds of folky sounds that for a young kid in suburban California were simply magic. I lost myself in soundscapes that felt wholly unknown yet mystically familiar.
And the music has stuck with me. No matter what I seem to do, I’m always returning to the sounds I immersed myself in in those early years—a forever folkie. So I’m honored to put together this playlist for a label without which I honestly don’t know how I would have turned out as a musician—as a human, really. And I know I’m not alone in that regard. Long live meticulous liner notes.
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