Banjo spot opens up in Country Current

US Navy Band Country CurrentUS Navy Band Country Current is on the hunt for a new banjo player, with Senior Chief Keith Arneson set to retire next spring. Country Current is the Navy’s only band dedicated to bluegrass and country music, and they demand high levels of musicianship and professionalism to become a member.

This banjo spot, and the founding of Country Current, traces directly back to five string legend Bill Emerson, who was the original leader and banjo picker with the band in 1973. They perform regionally from their home base in Washington, DC at ceremonial, community, and recruiting-oriented events, and also travel to appear at bluegrass festivals around the US.

Other prominent past members include Wayne Taylor and Frank Solivan. Arneson had succeeded Emerson in the band, so they have had only two banjo players over the past 43 years.

Keith says he has enjoyed his time in the Navy, and recommends than any pickers who need a steady gig should give it a thought.

Keith Arneson“It’s been a heck of a ride. It’s given me a good life, and health care benefits for the rest of my life. I’ve gotten to play for Presidents, Kings and Queens, and high ranking military officials.

I came in to the band in 1993. I was 30 years old when I applied for the position, working a day job with a wife, kids, and a mortgage.

Next thing I knew I was doing push-ups at basic training in Illinois.

But this is a young man’s gig. Now they are musicians in the band younger than my kids.”

So… if you are a capable young banjoist looking for a dependable gig with a regular paycheck plus substantial benefits, this could be the job for you. The starting salary for the successful candidate ranges from $57, 461 – $62,815, including 30 days of paid leave.

The job requires that you also can double on acoustic guitar and background vocals, and pass a military physical and FBI background check. And get through 9-11 weeks of boot camp.

But Keith says that basic training is infinitely survivable. And he also notes that once accepted into Country Current, the new banjo picker will be guaranteed that their entire term of service in the Navy will remain in DC. There is some band travel, but no re-assignments or temporary duty stations to be worried about, something important for young families.

To be considered for an audition, contact the US Navy Band by phone (202-433-2840) or email. All application materials must be in by June 27, with auditions scheduled for July 22 in DC.

Arneson says he will be on hand for the auditions to help choose his replacement.

“I’ll be a technical writer at the auditions for my replacement, offering suggestions on the various applicants, but I won’t actually have a vote.”

As for Keith, he says he’s retiring from the military, but not from playing banjo. He has been teaching banjo since he was 18 years old, and plans to take on more private students. He’ll also be working with Wayne Taylor again in his group, Appaloosa.

He also said that anyone considering applying for his position is welcome to contact him on Facebook for more feedback.

More details about Country Current or the US Navy Band program can be found online.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.