“I’m cutting back,” the last original member of the Seldom Scene said between signing CDs after the band’s set Friday night at the DC Bluegrass Union festival in Tysons Corner, VA.
Eldridge had just won DCBU’s Washington Monument Award for lifetime achievement. “Us old guys like to win awards,” he told the crowd. He noted that it was a special honor to win an award previously given to two of his banjo heroes, Bill Emerson and Eddie Adcock.
Eldridge will play select dates with the band, mostly in the Washington region. “I’m not going to fly to many shows,” he said.
While he’ll be making fewer appearances on stage, he said the band he co-founded in 1971 will be in good hands. The current lineup – Dudley Connell, Lou Reid, Fred Travers and Ronnie Simpkins, have been together since 1995. And Eldridge called Trevor Watson, who will play the shows he skips, “a fine picker, and a fine young man.”
The news isn’t a total shock. Eldridge has missed some road trips in the last year since hurting his back, and Watson has been a stellar fill-in. But Eldridge recently told his bandmates that he was planning to dial back even more.
Since injuring his back, Eldridge has mostly played from a stool, as he did Friday night. He said pain was radiating down his leg during the set, although his discomfort was invisible to the audience. He smiled and joked and played tasteful licks, as always. When I pointed that out to him, he grinned and said in true showman’s fashion, “Well, you can’t let it show.”
After DCBU President Randy Barrett presented the award in the middle of the band’s set, Ben joked that he would use the glass statue as a capo. Then, in one of those special moments, the band played Pickaway. It was a nod to Ben and the other founding members of the Seldom Scene, who opened their first-ever stage set with that instrumental more than 40 years ago.
Forty-four years later, he continues to pick away. He’ll just be doing it less often these days, and enjoying other things in life a bit more.
When you earn monument status, you can do that.