Well, they did it!
We have posted several times this summer about plans by the folks at Banjo.com to obtain a listing in The Guinness Book of World Records to honor Earl Scruggs. Yesterday in Atlanta, they succeeded, and the record for Largest Musical Ensemble now belongs to a group of more than 200 banjo pickers.
Here’s a report from event organizer, John Drummond.
In spite of the bad weather early on Wednesday, 239 banjo players traveled to Turner Field in Atlanta to participate in the Tribute to Earl Scruggs event, hosted by banjo.com and the Atlanta Braves. They stopped by the registration table to sign in, pick up commemorative T-shirts, and get a ticket for the door prizes. We moved to the Right Field Patio under a huge tent for rehearsals and for jam sessions. The Cedar Hill bluegrass band began performing at the Fan Plaza area, greeting baseball fans as they entered the park. By early afternoon the skies had cleared, paving the way for magical evening.
Around 5:30, while we rehearsed, Earl Scruggs and his son Gary, along with friends, arrived in a beautifully apportioned tour bus, provided by the Gibson Musical Instrument Company. We cheered for Mr. Scruggs as he entered the stadium on a Braves’ golf cart, and he acknowledged us with a big smile and a wave. He’s a humble man; I don’t think he was expecting such a warm welcome from so large a crowd! While he made his way to a private suite provided by the Atlanta Braves, we continued to rehearse in small groups, change strings, hunt for Finger-Ease, tune and retune, and just visit with each other. Players came from as far as Los Angeles and Canada. One player traveled all the way from Japan!
Around 6:45 we walked down the Hank Aaron tunnel and got in position to take the field. We had a challenge in keeping our instruments quiet while the Braves’ staff shouted directions. They had to shout because there were so many of us, spread out so far. When we walked out onto the field, I was overwhelmed by the sheer numbers, a virtual sea of banjo players. We split into two groups, one on each side of home plate.
Within minutes, the Braves’ announcer began talking about Earl Scruggs and his contribution to bluegrass music, and then showed a 2-minute video of his life on the giant Braves’ scoreboard, provided by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. About mid-way through the video, a camera zoomed in on Mr. Scruggs at his seat, and nearly the entire stadium erupted in applause, delighted to know that he was there in attendance. Mr. Scruggs smiled and waved, taking it all in gratefully.
The Cedar Hill band was the core group to kick off Foggy Mountain Breakdown and providing a bass beat. Charles R. Jackson, band director at Dodgen Middle School in Marietta, conducted. The scoreboard started the clock at 5 minutes, and the announcer would interject on each minute, “only 4 minutes to go to set a new world record!” and so on. By Guinness rules, we’re not allowed to improvise, but to liven up the song for the crowd, breaks were played by Jim Adkins, Elizabeth Long and Greg Earnest. When the clock ran out and we’d passed the 5-minute mark, we hit the last note and shouted with joy. Many were shouting, “Earl! Earl! Earl!” What an honor it was to perform for a huge audience at Turner Field, in front of Earl Scruggs!
Afterwards, we distributed personalized certificates of participation to attendees, and handed out door prizes from string sets to banjos. The Braves’ staff thanked all of us for making it a magical night at Turner Field.
We owe a special thanks to the Jim Adkins and Brad Laird for generating the idea for this event, to Jim for his tireless efforts at organizing the event down to the smallest detail, to the Atlanta Braves staff for their amazing hospitality, and to Earl Scruggs for traveling from Nashville to attend the event.
John has promised to send along some photos, which we will publish later today when we receive them.