Rethinking the Banjo on Sound Field

PBS Digital Studios is the home for original web content under the umbrella of America’s Public Broadcasting Service. They offer a variety of programs in the fields of science, arts, and culture, produced by smaller teams than are commonly associated with the network’s large-scale programming.

One such effort is Sound Field, a series of video shorts that explore different aspects of music. Producers LA Buckner and Nahre Sol are musicians themselves, and explore aspects of the community that many observers would not encounter.

For their most recent episode, It’s Time To Rethink The Banjo, Nahre visits Nashville to speak with a number of prominent practitioners of the old 5 string. Those of us well familiar with the banjo may wonder what exactly needs to be rethought, but one supposes that title is meant to appeal to people who have a negative impression of the instrument.

She interviews Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn at their home, instructor Alan O’Bryant in his teaching studio, and master builder Steve Huber at his shop. Each discuss the banjo and why it has such lasting appeal, and demonstrate what it can do in the hands of a skilled performer. Sol also provides a nice overview of how the banjo made its way to the American colonies in the 16th century, and evolved over the centuries into what we know today.

The video runs just over 15 minutes and will hold your interest every second.

Hats off to Buckner and Sol for this fine mini-doc. Let’s hope more filmmakers and documentarians will follow their lead.

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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.