Tom Durkin
Special to Prospector

Evans brings history of banjo to life

Part performance, part history lesson and pure entertainment, Bill Evans’ one-man show, “The Banjo in America,” takes the stage at the North Columbia Schoolhouse Cultural Center Saturday.

“I’m going to bring a bunch of banjos,” he promised in a Skype interview from Berkeley Monday. “You will hear stuff you’ve never heard before. This is not just for banjo geeks.”

From its origins in West Africa, Evans traces the history and evolution of the banjo in the 1800s through slave quarters, minstrel shows and aristocratic Victorian parlors.

Victorian parlors? Yes, there was a time when refined young women played “classic,” romantic banjo to impress their suitors. “It was known as the instrument of love — and often the women never needed to learn the last section of the piece,” he jokes.

Moving into the 20th century, Evans explores the roots of ragtime, jazz, and of course, traditional and contemporary bluegrass, not to mention his Beatles medley. Finally, he brings it all the way into the 21st century with his electric banjo. It looks and plays like a banjo, but it sounds like a warm and mellow guitar.

“You’re going to hear a lot of echoes,” he explained. “The banjo is the root of roots of much today’s music.”

Not only a consummate performer and instructor, Evans is also an American music scholar with a master’s degree in music from the University of California, Berkeley. Over the past 35 years, he has toured the country and world. He’s played venues as diverse as the San Francisco Symphony and a U.S. State Department-sponsored tour of Russia, and most recently, he guest-starred Feb. 23 on the legendary radio program “A Prairie Home Companion” with Garrison Keillor.

Additionally, he’s played with a laundry list of world-famous performers and bands, including such luminaries David Grisman, Peter Rowan, Stuart Duncan, Rob Ickes, Darol Anger, Mike Marshall, David Grier, Todd Phillips, Dry Branch Fire Squad, The Infamous Stringdusters, Joy Kills Sorrow and way too many more to mention.

He’s particularly proud of his latest CD, “In Good Company,” on which he collaborates with 26 renowned musicians. This release ruled the California Roots Music Report charts from May to October 2012. It received a Spotlight Review in the August 2012 edition of “Bluegrass Unlimited” magazine. And it was named to many “Best of 2012” CD lists, including Pop Matters, Folk Alley, Kansas Public Radio, Engine 145, Prescription Bluegrass and WDHX-FM.

“In Good Company” will be on sale at the show, along with his acclaimed book “Banjo for Dummies,” five instructional DVDs, and “probably too much other stuff to fit on the table,” he laughed.

This won’t be Evans’ first visit to Nevada’s County. He’s played with bands at the annual Father’s Day Bluegrass Festival, but this will be the first time he’s brought his one-man show to town.

“I’m really excited about this gig,” Evans said Monday. Although he’s never been to the North Columbia Cultural Center, he believes the rural, historic schoolhouse is the perfect setting for an intimate, acoustic concert celebrating more than 200 years of the music and legend of one of America’s most iconic instruments.

In the run-up to his show, Evans will do two live interviews on KVMR community radio. Kim Rogers will talk with Evans during her 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday (March 7) Americana show “Good Stuff.” Then, on Saturday, the day of the concert, Evans will be on Eric Rice’s “County Line Bluegrass Show” between 10 a.m. and noon.

Jeff Adams, executive director of the North Columbia Cultural Center, reported ticket sales are going well.

“There are a lot of banjo players on the Ridge,” he said. He stopped short of predicting a sellout, but he said he wouldn’t be surprised either.

Refreshments will be for sale at the show.

“We have an amazing crew of bakers,” said Adams. Additionally, wine and alcohol will be available along with various non-alcoholic beverages.

The doors open at 7 p.m., and Bill Evans presents “The Banjo in America” at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are $15 for cultural center members in advance, $18 for non-members and $20 at the door. Tickets are available at BriarPatch Co-op, the Nevada City Box Office and Mother Truckers.

Tom Durkin is a freelance writer/photographer in Nevada City. He can be reached at tdurkin@vfr.net.


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The Union Updated Mar 7, 2013 12:26AM Published Mar 7, 2013 11:42AM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.