Bill Evans talks Steve Martin Banjo Prize

Bill Evans – photo by Mike Melnyk

Just before Christmas, we had an opportunity to chat with Bill Evans, one of the recipients of the 2022 Steve Martin Banjo Prize, now administered by The Freshgrass Foundation.

The prize was initiated by the banjo playing actor/comedian in 2010, named at the time as The Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass Music. That first award went to Noam Pikelny, who appeared on television with Martin as part of the prize. Martin awarded the prize at the start from his own private funds, and gave away a $50,000 cash grant each year through 2020.

Other recipients have included Sammy Shelor, Scott Vestal, Danny Barnes, Jens Kruger, Kristin Scott Benson, Victor Furtado, Matthew Davis, B.B. Bowness, Alan Munde, and several others.

Evans was named as prize winner for 2022, along with Enda Scahill, tenor banjoist with Ireland’s We Banjo 3. Of late he has been performing with California Bluegrass Reunion, a west coast group of bluegrass all stars, along with Darol Anger on fiddle, John Reischman on mandolin, Jim Nunally on guitar, Chad Manning on fiddle, and Sharon Gilchrist on bass.

He has also spent a long career as a banjo instructor, teaching at workshops all over the world, producing instructional materials for AcuTab Publications, Homespun Tapes, The Murphy Method, and Mel Bay Publications, and is currently teaching at Peghead Nation online. Bill is also the author of Banjo For Dummies and Bluegrass Banjo For Dummies.

The bluegrass world first saw Bill with the early progressive bluegrass band, Cloud Valley, which also included Missy Raines on bass, Steve Smith on mandolin, and Charlie Ranke on guitar. Evans took a hard turn from there, joining up with Dry Branch Fire Squad, and toured with them for several years.

Along the way he also pursued an academic career, teaching at a number of universities in ethnomusicology, and tried his hand at museum curation at the Bluegrass Music Museum in Owensboro, KY for a time before moving to California. Now living in New Mexico, Bill continues to teach both in person and online, and directs music camps of his own.

Perhaps Evans’ most lingering contribution to banjo education is his long running concert offering, The Banjo In America, where Bill performs banjo music from the 19th and early 20th century on a number of antique and period correct instruments. This show has become so popular that a live CD/DVD set has been produced for sale.

I would like to insert a personal comment here, as Bill Evans is my oldest banjo buddy. He and I met as teenagers back in 1973, which led to a friendly banjo rivalry of many decades, in which he has consistently come out on top. It is a matter of personal pride to see my friend accept such a prestigious award, so fully deserved.

Of the Martin Prize, Bill said that he was taken aback by a delivery that arrived in November.

“FedEx arrived with a package and I had to sign for it. I opened it up and the first thing I saw was a copy of No Depression magazine. But under that was the letter from Steve.

After no touring for two and a half years, this was a beautiful surprise.”

Then on November 10, he participated in a live online award presentation, sponsored by Deering and Compass Records, co-presenters of the Steve Martin Banjo Prize, along with The Freshgrass Foundation.

Bill described the hectic day of the presentation, where he watched while pre[paring to perform with the Reunion in Sacramento.

“After some photos and music from my career, Alan Munde came on with a recorded video. Watching that I was an emotional wreck.

Then I played a song with the whole band in the lobby of the Side Door, where we were just finishing our sound check.”

California Bluegrass reunion – out of this world fun.

In addition to touring with California Bluegrass Reunion, which Bill describes as “out of this world fun,” Evans has a new album due this year, Things Are Simple. Expect news of a debut single coming up in the next few weeks.

He will also be teaching a live workshop series at PegHead Nation on The Banjo Style of J.D. Crowe, along with Ron Block and Ron Stewart.

Congratulations to Bill Evans for this major award!

California Bluegrass Reunion

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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.