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TRISCHKA - Tony Trischka offers musical, historical banjo ride (Chgo Trib, Sep 22, 1999)

Tony Trischka concert review, 1999






Tony Trischka offers musical, historical banjo ride

By David Royko

Tony Trischka is a banjoist, whose show Monday night at the intimate

David Adler Cultural Center in Libertyville included a reading from a

children's book, as well as 19th Century newspaper descriptions of the

banjo. His on-stage persona is low key. He performed most of the

evening unaccompanied. And he fielded a few questions from audience

members on subjects as arcane as the shape of his instrument's bridge.

One understandable response to such a show might be: Yawn.

Then why was Trischka's performance so entertaining?

One reason is that Trischka knows how to build from the bottom up.

By beginning with a technically demanding yet melodically appealing

tune, he instantly set the "gee" quotient high, as in "Gee whiz, this

guy can play." Bluegrass and progressive acoustic music fans have known

this for more than 25 years, and it is why various players, most

famously Bela Fleck, have sought him out as a teacher and snapped up

his many recordings.

Except for all but the hardest of hard-core banjo nuts, an entire

evening of dazzling, modern banjo tunes quickly becomes wearying, like

too much dark chocolate.

What Trischka did was to slow down, and ultimately turn backwards. Not

back to lesser music but to an earlier time of American musical


One of Trischka's gifts is understanding how music from the past 150

years is connected, and presenting these connections in such a way that

the lesson becomes secondary to enjoying the music.

Never did the history supersede the art, and ultimately, what Trischka

presented was two hours of gripping and gorgeous music.

Trischka's easy, mildly self deprecating humor, coupled with his

obvious sense of fascination with the development of his instrument and

the musical society around it, kept the patter moving.

So did engrossing musical selections, such as a lilting 1870s "Spanish

Fandango," a trio of instrumental arrangements of 1950s-era Pete Seeger

tunes, which demonstrated how innovative a musician the elder "folky"

always was, and a batch of Trischka originals that were scattered

through the two sets.

And like his composing, this show was unique and clever in ways that

are characteristic of a musical mind of breadth and wit.

After reading an excerpt from Preston Sturges' autobiography near

show's end, where the filmmaker's mother describes the misery her

husband's banjo obsession caused, Trischka tore into a medley of three

Earl Scruggs tunes, confirming and demolishing Mrs. Sturges' point.

And while other banjoists might struggle to get an audience to

participate, Trischka's string of Beatles tunes--John Lennon started

out as a banjoist, Trischka reminded listeners--almost dared the crowd

to keep quiet, so inviting it was to fill in the words after the

banjoist had squeezed so much of the Liverpudleans' arrangements onto

five strings.

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