Outside of bluegrass music circles, the image of banjo players is not always a complimentary one. From the frequent “Paddle faster… I hear banjo music” T-shirts, to the seemingly endless supply of banjo jokes and drooling hayseed stereotypes, you could forgive an outsider for having a negative impression of five stringers.
With that in mind, it is a pleasure to introduce you to Cap Spence, an amateur banjo picker and avid collector of fine banjos, who on Sunday will serve as the staging supervisor for the halftime show during Super Bowl XLI.
Cap runs Nightwatch Management, and is responsible for getting all staging (plus lights, sound and effects) in position for the halftime extravaganza. This is accomplished with a crew of 30 union stagehands and 300 local volunteers. What makes the task especially daunting is that they have just five minutes to get this entire set up on the field during a commercial break, and then off the field again in five after the show is concluded.
Cap says that this year, they have 30 individual stage components to move onto the field and assemble, with more than 100 electrical connections among them. When we spoke on Thursday, they had rehearsed the process five times, with a few more on tap before Sunday’s game.
When I asked him how he got into this line of work, he blamed the banjo.
“The banjo brought me into show production. I was an Army captain, and after ten years, and two tours of duty in Viet Nam, my marriage fell apart and I rented a place off base in Fayetteville, NC. I ran into a band in a local bar who were mixing rock and bluegrass. They were called Single Tree, and had a banjo – plugged into a big stage amp – alongside electric guitars and drums.
I started hanging out with these guys, took an interest in the banjo and started learning to play. When I got out of the Army, they asked if I wanted to join the band, and I took the job as their sound and lighting tech, road manager and booking agent. I suppose I had a knack for this sort of thing, and I just kept moving up in the business over the years.”
He formed Nightwatch in 1972, and soon they were working the 2nd and 3rd Woodstock festivals. Cap now has an ongoing relationship with MTV, and works their Video Music Awards and Spring Break broadcasts each year.
There is some fear of rain during Sunday’s game, which could throw a monkey wrench into Cap’s entire operation. He said that if the field is in bad shape, they could even cancel the halftime show, or move it to after the game. In his seven previous Super Bowl halftime shows, Cap has never run into a cancellation, so let’s hope they get a go on Sunday.
Cap says that he always brings a banjo with him to the Super Bowl, and tries to get a picture of him playing it on the giant stage. Maybe Prince will ask him up to pick one in the show? Perhaps not.
In any event, while you’re watching the halftime show on Sunday, just remember that a banjo player made it happen!