If you were lucky enough to be in the audience at The Birchmere in Alexandria, VA on July 16, 2016 for Ben Eldridge’s final show with The Seldom Scene, you will have already seen this video which Ben’s son Chris sent to us today.
Ben had reached the age at 77 where traveling was more than inconvenient, and a fall on stage had suggested that sitting was best when he did break out the banjo to perform. And no one was surprised when he announced in 2016 that it was time for him to hang it up. He had served as an important and influential link between the Scruggs-dominated banjo playing of the 1950s and ’60s, and the now common modern styles which have stretched banjo technique in many new directions. Eldridge blended the two seamlessly with Seldom Scene, and was as much a part of their popularity as the singing of John Duffey and John Starling, or the instrumental work of Mike Auldridge or Tom Gray.
For the retirement show in ’16, many of Ben’s contemporaries who wanted to be there were likewise leery of traveling, and younger peers had performance commitments of their own. So Chris Eldridge stitched together submitted video tributes into this 10 minute piece that was shown on a big screen during that final concert. Kind words – and a few gentle roasts – were provided by his fellow pickers in the banjo and bluegrass world, plus a number of good friends, and a pair of ex-wives.
Ben has left us with a lasting musical legacy in two dozen Seldom Scene records and hundreds of live videos online. Hundreds of thousands have watched him play the banjo on stage over the years, and now Ron Stewart has been deputized to carry on the tradition. For a band to have existed for more than 45 years with only one banjo picker has got to be some sort of record.
Perhaps the greatest legacy is his son, Chris, one of the most gifted and talented flat top, steel string guitarists on the scene today. Working now with Punch Brothers and on a variety of solo and duo projects, Ben surely takes great pride in seeing his son’s success.
We join all the superstars from the video in wishing Ben Eldridge the very best in retirement, with many thanks for all the great music and fellowship over the years.