Washington Post: Musicians sing the praises of a uniquely American instrument: the banjo

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If you thought — as I did — that all the banjo was good for was a trebly twang, then you don’t know banjos.

“There are so many different sounds you can get from a banjo,” said Kevin Enoch, a banjo maker in Beltsville, Md., known for his finely crafted instruments. “Different types of banjos are played different ways. If you take a gourd banjo, with skin stretched over it and gut strings, you get this really deep, tubby, guttural sound that’s really primitive. Then you can go through various stages up to what most people are used to hearing: bluegrass banjo that’s very bright and crisp and cuts through.”

Sunday at the Birchmere in Alexandria , it will be the so-called “old time” banjo that will be in the spotlight. It’s likely that some of Enoch’s banjos will be, too. Cathy Fink , one of the evening’s performers, owns several.

“Mike Seeger did three amazing instructional DVDs on Southern banjo styles,” Fink said. “Most are styles you rarely see people play. If he had not done that, they’d be lost. . . . Mike played the festival with us the first three years we had it. Then he passed away, and we felt like keeping it going and remembering and honoring Mike for everything he’s given to this music.”

The 12th annual Mike Seeger Commemorative Old Time Banjo Festivalwill feature Fink, Marxer, Gleaves, a group that includes Fink, her longtime partner, Marcy Marxer, and Sam Gleaves; Dom Flemons, co-founder of the Carolina Chocolate Drops; the Ken & Brad Kolodner Quartet ; Evie Ladin; and Greg C. Adams. (For information, visit birchmere.com.)

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