Carroll County News

Reclaiming the banjo

Grammy-nominated musician Tony Trischka said one of his performance goals is highlighting the versatility of the banjo.

"For many years, I lived in New York City, and when I would walk the street with my banjo, people would yell 'yee-haw' at me. You saw a banjo and you pictured bales of hay and missing teeth," said Trischka, who will perform Saturday at the Carroll Arts Center.


"It was a cliched view of the banjo and a cliched view of Southern music. I've worked on Bach and Beethoven on the banjo. I've done John Coltrane on the banjo, and I've recorded with drums and saxophones, and things like that."

Trischka's concert, part of the Common Ground on the Hill Westminster concert series, will feature bluegrass standards as well as original music and a brief history of the banjo and its African origins. Trischka said it's important to keep a show lively by featuring a variety of forms of entertainment.


"I started doing solo shows right around 1990, and I had to think to myself, 'Am I really going to go out there and play fast bluegrass for two hours?'" Trischka said. "It's fun and exciting and I love fast bluegrass, but it's not the only thing you want to do for an audience in that time."

Trishka's 2007 Grammy-nominated bluegrass album "Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular" paired him up with other noted artists, such as Bela Fleck and Earl Scruggs, to perform a number of banjo duets. And as a music producer, Trischka worked on Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers' "Rare Bird Alert" in 2011. The album features Paul McCartney and the Dixie Chicks, and was also nominated for a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album. In the past, Trischka has appeared on "The Merv Griffin Show," "The Late Show with David Letterman" and "The Ellen DeGeneres Show."

Trischka said he first came to bluegrass when he heard the Kingston Trio's performance of the song "M.T.A."

"As soon as I first heard the banjo solo on that tune I fell in love with the instrument," Trischka said. "My parents were very supportive and bought me a banjo that Christmas."

In addition to bluegrass, Trischka will perform a medley of Beatles songs. He said the banjo is an appropriate instrument for a Beatles tribute because it was the first instrument of Beatles guitarist John Lennon.

"You want to have people hear tunes that they recognize at a concert like this," Trischka said. "When I was in New York, I was listening to fusion music, the Beatles and Frank Zappa; and I heard all of these other genres, and this was a natural outgrowth. There are no boundaries, and you can do anything you want with a banjo."

Common Ground on the Hill Executive Director Walt Michael said his relationship with Trischka goes back decades.

"I first met Tony when we were both in different bands in New York state in the 1970s," Michael said. "I had heard a lot about him through other musicians. People kept telling me, 'You gotta hear this guy.' I wasn't disappointed. I was blown away by what he was doing."


Michael said he was impressed by Trischka's phrasing on the instrument as well as the amount of power he was able to produce with the banjo.

"He was totally capable of playing the things that a banjo player should — your Earl Scruggs, and bluegrass and banjo masters," Michael said. "He has this great facility on the instrument: He can really move around on the banjo. I think people are going to be really impressed."

Earlier in the day, Trischka will host a banjo workshop from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Common Ground on the Hill office at McDaniel College, 2 College Hill, Westminster. The workshop is $75 and space is limited. For tickets, visit or call 410-857-2771.

Reach staff writer Jacob deNobel at 410-857-7890 or

If You Go

What: Tony Trischka Concert


When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 1

Where: Carroll Arts Center, 91 W. Main St., Westminster

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Cost: $25 adults; $22 seniors older than 65, children and teens 18 and younger, and McDaniel students.

For more information: Visit or call 410-848-7272.

What: Banjo Workshop

When: 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 1


Where: Common Ground on the Hill office, 2 College Hill, Westminster

Cost: $75

For more information: Visit or call 410-857-2771.