Populist Banjo


R.D. Eno of Cabot, VT

Clawhammer Becoming the ‘Populist’ Banjo,

There’s a new banjo sound emanating from the Green Mountains that is catching on with players and audiences. While the ripping-fast percussive sound of a banjo in bluegrass music is familiar to most, the more melodic, somewhat slower paced clawhammer style is gaining with local listeners.

At open sessions in Montpelier, VT at Bagito’s or the Skinny Pancake, old time music has caught on and an integral part of that style comes from the clawhammer banjo style.

Eno, a keen observer of traditional musical styles, says clawhammer banjo has become popular because “it’s archival. It preserves in the music and execution a style and sensibility of the past.”

“Clawhammer repertoire provides a window into the mid-19th century intermingling of African and white Celtic  sensibilities,” he explains.

Eno also sees in the music that clawhammer exemplifies a tradition that has come down through the years.

“It’s a sense of intimacy that partly accounts for the folk music revival itself,” he said. “Old time music invites participation. It’s easy to pick up the style but difficult to master – but you don’t have to be a master to participate.”

Eno says the banjo is a fairly uncomplicated instrument, which appeals to many potential players today.

“Everything about the banjo is visible,” he said. “There is nothing arcane about it. There is no special glue, bracing, carving like in violin or guitar making; the banjo is very simple, a drum with a broom stick.”

If you want to hear traditional old-time music or join in there are two sessions in Montpelier: 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Sundays at the Skinny Pancake; and a monthly session at Bagitos 6 to 8 p.m. each third Tuesday.


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