One more banjo player for the good ol’ US of A!
Last week Catherine “BB” Bowness, banjo player with Mile Twelve, took the oath of allegiance and was sworn in as a newly minted US citizen. The New Zealand native has been living in the States since 2012. She came here after receiving a Bachelors degree in jazz performance at the New Zealand School of Music in Wellington, the first banjo player ever to complete the program.
It wasn’t her first trip over, as she had come earlier as a recipient of the Frank Winter memorial award, which covered expenses for her to travel to the US and study with banjo icons Alan Munde, Tony Trischka, and Bill Evans.
She tells us the 2012 visit was because of a special arrangement between New Zealand and the US.
“Within one year of your college graduation, you can apply for a 1 year work visa in the States. I don’t think many people know about this program, but I think it’s still available. Once I was here, I was able to get a 3 year O-1 work visa.”
Bowness set herself up in Boston, and quickly found a home among the contemporary bluegrass scene in town. She was soon accepting private students and playing with a number of groups in the area.
In 2013 she was chosen to attend the Acoustic Music Seminar in Savannah, Georgia, a highly-selective honor that allowed her to study closely with a number of other top string musicians. Then in 2015, she won the FreshGrass banjo competition in northwestern Massachusetts.
Real prominence came when she emerged as a co-founder of Mile Twelve, who have since gone on to establish themselves as a major international touring band on the strength of their two self-produced albums.
BB says that once her citizenship application was in, the whole thing went pretty easily.
“It was a surprisingly quick process for me. I stayed on top of it all. But I got called in for my meeting while I was teaching at Kaufman Kamp, so I had to get a sub and head back to Boston. The meeting times are chosen randomly, so if I refused it, I could have been another year waiting. And with all the traveling we do, it could have come while we were out of the country.”
After this meeting, which is in the form of an interview with some straightforward questions, you wait a couple of weeks for the next induction ceremony. Hers came on June 20, and the rest is history.
I was leaning towards suggesting that New Zealand’s loss was America’s gain, but she will be able to retain her native citizenship and use her NZ passport when visiting home.
Now that she’s a full member of the United States, Bowness says it doesn’t really feel much different.
“I had already been paying taxes and had a social security number. Now I can vote, and be called up for jury duty.
But reflecting on how long I’ve been here living in Boston, it feels pretty nice to be accepted.
Oh… and no more lawyers fees!”
Congratulations and welcome to new citizen, BB Bowness!