From Monsterball to old-time music

In 2008, Brad Kolodner, then 18, plays the game he invented, called Monsterball, in his family's Guilford back yard. Now, at 22, he's playing something different, the banjo, with his father, Ken Kolodner, an already established musician. The two play traditional and original Appalachian folk music together and made a CD. (File photo/2008 / May 24, 2008)

The backstop fence still sits in his family's deep backyard in Guilford, with a sign that reads, "Monsterball. Commissioner Bradley Kolodner."

Kolodner, who is 22 now and prefers Brad, was a teenager at Friends School when he invented the game Monsterball. Dozens of teens and adults would gather from around the neighborhood and beyond, to play a cross between baseball and kickball.

Kolodner and his dad, Ken, 57, were playing again in the yard on Fenchurch Road earlier this month — but what they were playing were banjo (Brad) and fiddle and hammered dulcimer (Ken).

Monsterball is a memento of Brad's youth. But recording and performing traditional and original Appalachian folk music now defines the father-and-son duo as a nationally known act.


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That's what they'll be playing Aug. 5, at a backyard concert for which tickets are $20 per person in advance, or $22 at the door. The yard seats 150 people.

For Brad, a recent graduate of Ithaca College in New York with a degree in Radio and Television, music is a fine stopgap while he decides on a career. The duo's first CD, Otter Creek, climbed to the top of Billboard magazine's instrumental folk music chart last year

"I don't know what I want to do eventually, but for now, this is it," Brad said.

Ken Kolodner, a part-time epidemiology consultant and a Friends School grad, is a longtime recording and touring artist, perhaps best known as a member of the band Helicon, which stopped touring in 1997, but still plays winter solstice shows at Goucher College in Towson and draws about 1,500 people. This year, Helicon will play two shows on Dec. 22.

In years past, luminaries like Doc Watson and Allison Krauss came by the Kolodner house to jam with Ken and Helicon in the Kolodner living room.

"All kinds of people came though," Ken said.

Now, Ken plays with other artists around the country and said music is about 80 percent of his living.

Hiding from the music

Brad had little affinity for traditional music growing up.

"I would hide," he said. "I heard it all day, every day. I liked classic rock."

"And you still do," his dad said.

But at 17, Brad began to cock a new ear towardold-time music.

"I liked the sound of the banjo," he said. His parents bought him one for Christmas.

"It got me started," he said.

Brad had tried to enroll in a harmonica and penny whistle class, but it was full, so he took a banjo class.

At 19, he entered a regional banjo contest and came in second.

Now, he's nationally known like his dad and wrote most of the songs for Otter Creek.

The duo splits the profits from Otter Creek, which has sold about 1,500 copies. They tour together, too, most recently this week, when they were scheduled to perform and teach music classes at the Maidencreek Old Time Music Festival.in Blandon, Pa., on July 29.

And they perform locally four times a year for the public. Next up is the Aug. 2 concert with the Honey Dewdrops, a popular traditional-music band.

Ken, himself a Friends and Johns Hopkins University graduate with a degree in Public Health, said the backyard concert "is a chance to do something a little more intimate."

Exploring his options

Brad, who played squash in college, also teaches squash while living at home and making music with his dad.

"We hang out more," Brad said. "A lot of fathers and sons don't have that kind of relationship."

"It's been super fun for me," Ken said, adding that he's been encouraging Brad to sing.

"I don't sing," Ken said.

"You don't want to hear him sing," said Brad.

Brad is in no hurry to get on with his life and is content to live the musical life with his dad, practicing in the yard and in their home studio, a converted garage.

"For now, music is my main focus," he said. "I'm just getting to the point where I have a real passion for it. But I think playing banjo as a profession would be a real tough career."

Of course, there's always Monsterball.

"I started Monsterball in Ithaca," Brad said. "It was wildly popular."

Ken and Brad Kolodner and The Honey Dewdrops will perform Sunday, Aug. 5, 7:30 p.m. in the backyard of the Kolodners' house. If it rains, the concert will be held at the Stony Run Friends Meeting House, 5116 N. Charles St.For more information and tickets, call 4120-746-8387 or 410-243-7254, or go to http://www.kenkolodner.com.