Author: Morris, Geof

Banjos in the spring

We never thought it would get here, and perhaps even now it hasnít, but the last two days in Central Victoria, South-eastern Australia, have been warmer and sunnier with that light, deft touch of breeze, than for the past four months of what was, for us, a cold and often bleak Winter.

Spring here brings with it not only lighter, fresher, softer, warmer air, but the promise of music in the outdoors! Musicians may be found around the centre of Bendigo (population roughly 100,000) busking as if released from hibernation.

Bluegrass or acoustic festivals in general are rare in Australia except on a small local level. This fact is misleading, as there are countless acoustically inclined musicians jamming here there and everywhere and involved in gigs at local pubs. They by all means donít play exclusively bluegrass music, but tend to mix it in with their own songs and what, in the U.S., would be labeled ďAmericanaĒ (the appellation doesnít appear to fit similar music played in Australia!)

Acoustic or predominantly bluegrass festivals are difficult to organize, principally owing to the sheer distance involved in bringing top artists or groups some hundreds if not thousands of miles to the event. One local committee has, however, succeeded in bridging this gap in a quite remarkable way.

The little town of Guildford is some twenty or so miles from Bendigo. It boasts a hotel (pub really) there since the gold-rush days of 1850-60), a music-hall, (solid brick, over 150 years old, a store, a few houses, a very small school, and thatís your town! It is carried by gardening and faming families in the district.

Several years ago, a bunch of musicians began to jam there often, had, of course, a marvelous and highly social time doing so. From this, the step was taken to invite others to join them. Why not choose a week-end in early spring?

Our Central Victorian climate at this time of year is famously unpredictable: could be warm, sunny and pleasant; could quite easily turn to rain and chill winds. Well, the beer-garden can accommodate a large number of people if sunny, otherwise, so the organizers thought, we adjourn rapidly into the pub and the music-hall or both!

Thus the Banjo Jamboree was born. Its only point of professionalism, apart from the musicians who attend, is a Management Committee and the obligatory website and facebook.

Now, some ten years or more on, hundreds of people travel to Guildford from great distances, not so much to hear top people play, but to jam themselves and participate actively in workshops and concerts. Its atmosphere remains informal, welcoming and hugely musical!

You sit on a chair (if youíre lucky) or a brick wall around the beer-garden; you dash across the road to the store to pick up something for lunch, then back to the music.

Why Guildford? Well I think itís one of those delightful happy accidents of fate which has now placed this remarkable week-end of music and friendship on the map. The connection between spring, beautiful countryside and music is a beautiful combination impossible to resist.

Posted:  9/4/2012

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