Oh Susanna video from Lluis Gomez

No matter where you may live, if you play music in public, there are songs you can’t avoid. It doesn’t matter if you busk on the street, play in restaurants and taverns, or perform in large concert halls. Someone will invariably ask you to play that one song that just tears at your soul.

Usually, a musician’s aversion to a song has to do with the innumerable versions they have had to play over the years, and the demanding way some people request it. The player doesn’t always realize that this stranger asking for yet another repeat of Foggy Mountain Breakdown is a well-intentioned soul who just loves the tune, or thinks they are showing you respect by asking for a well-known piece. You try hard not to let the irritation show, and maybe suggest that you have another one you think they’ll enjoy.

Touring artists can develop a knowledge of regional preferences over the course of a career, recognizing where song X or Y is most commonly requested, sometimes even setting up a betting pool on when the song will first be mentioned.

Buskers may face this the most, as there is so little separation between you and your audience. Or perhaps it’s the pub performer, who plays for listeners well-lubricated by their beverage of choice. But ask any musician, in any genre, and they will have some stories to tell.

Just a few weeks ago, Spanish banjo master Lluis Gomez was telling use that when he plays in and around Barcelona, the one he gets most is Oh Susanna, the Stephen Foster ballad that was wildly popular in the US during the War Between The States. Spanish music lovers don’t have the knowledge of bluegrass to equip them to ask for the standards familiar to us over here, and that song mentions the banjo, so…

But instead of fighting it, Gomez turned the stereotype on its head, and created a lovely arrangement of Oh Susanna that covers a number of banjo playing styles, giving him something musically challenging and interesting to play when the inevitable request comes in.

Lluis tells us that it will be included on his next album, and sent along this video shot at Fanatic Guitars in Barcelona.

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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.