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Posted by Brooklynbanjoboy on Sunday, October 27, 2019

On 25 October 2019 I spent the day at the 2019 Banjo Gathering in Norfolk, VA.


Formerly known as the Banjo Collectors Gathering, the organization has evolved since its inception in the mid-1990s as an annual event for collectors of vintage banjos who met, initially, in Williamsburg, VA, but have since taken the annual meeting around the country, pegging the venue for the meeting to museum exhibits in various cities - Charlottesville, VA, Philadelphia, PA, Bristol, VA, and this year, Norfolk, VA. 


The organization has evolved to the point of including researchers, folklorists, writers, and contemporary banjo builders - and so has taken on another name and a new identity as The Banjo Gathering. . . without shedding a lot of the initial motivations for putting together this brain trust that every year since the mid-1990s (as I recall . . . though maybe earlier) has convened a Gathering of banjo-focused people. 


Unfortunately, I had to cut my time in Norfolk so I was only around for 25 October, but I caught very impressing presentations by Robert Greene ("Parke Hunter and the Introduction of American Music to England"), Lee Bidgood ("Czech Luthiers, Banjos and Borders"), Ken Perlman ("How the Melodic Clawhammer Movement Rediscovered 'Lost" Minstrel Era Techniques"), and John Holt ("William Lange and His 1030's Lange Tone Flange"). 


I gave a paper on the banjos of Dwight Diller and Tommy Thompson.  


At the end of my presentation, I told a story about Tommy - BUT I got the punchline wrong, so I wanted to take another crack at it here. 


So, just in the way of background, in the mid-1960's, Tommy and Bobbie Thompson joined Alan Jabbour and Bertram Levy to form the Hollow Rock String Band.  In 1972, Tommy, Bill Hicks and Jim Watson formed a string band in Chapel Hill; Mike Craver joined soon after, bringing piano to the mix.  The band that morphed into the Red Clay Ramblers branched out creatively, incorporating jazz, Tin Pan Alley, gospel and original tunes into its stage performances.   Illness compelled Tommy to leave the band in 1994.  He passed away in 2003.  For over 20 years of his life, he was a performing and recording musician, a band leader, a writer of plays and lyrics, an actor, a teacher, and a thinker. 


Jan Davidson told me this story while I was working on a book about Tommy (Tommy Thompson: New Timey String Band Musician, Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, Inc., 2019.)


Actually, it is worth pausing to tell Jan's story: 


He was the executive director of the John C. Campbell Folk School at Brasstown from 1992 to 2017.  Jan grew up in downtown Murphy in an old house that was built by his grandmother’s father, Robert Alexander Akin.  He recalled visiting the Folk School as a child at Christmas time, and later taking woodworking classes there.  Davidson worked as a DJ at WCVP from 1962 to 1966.  In the 1970s, when the Folk School began focusing more on local and traditional music, he was hired to play guitar for a clogging event.  Davidson joined the Folk School staff in 1992.  During his tenure, he was focused on programming, facility building and renovation, fundraising, historic preservation, and conservation. Under his direction, the campus expanded with the acquisition and renovation of real estate, school’s annual student enrollment grew to an average of 6000 students, and the John C. Campbell Folk School Endowment was established.  In 2007, Davidson received The North Carolina Award for Fine Arts, the state’s highest civilian honor, and was nominated for two regional Emmy awards for his film about the school, "Sing Behind the Plow," co-produced with UNC-TV.


Jan told me this story about his friend Tommy Thompson. 


"So, we were in New York, in 1975, during the run of the off Broadway play, Diamond Studs


A bunch of us were walking down a street.


Probably looking like cowboys, in our costumes from the play.


This guy comes up and says 'I'm a defrocked Catholic priest. Can you give me five dollars to get a drink?'


And Tommy says, 'How do I know you won't spend it on food?' "


Jan concluded by noting that Tommy gave the guy five bucks. 


No strings attached. 


Thanks for letting me get this story right.  I realized later, after botching it, and clearly getting no laughs, that I needed to find a way to tell it correctly.


Play hard,




PS:  I will post photos of the Banjo Gathering today. 


1 comment on “THE 2019 BANJO GATHERING, NORFOLK, VA”

Brooklynbanjoboy Says:
Sunday, October 27, 2019 @2:59:43 AM

Photos now posted.

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