Tony Trischka is one of the most influential banjo players in roots and bluegrass music.
The Grammy-nominated artist has been at the forefront of the instrument starting in the mid-1960s and has worked with many of the top names in bluegrass, including Bela Fleck, Peter Rowan, David Grisman, Tony Rice and the all-time banjo master himself, Earl Scruggs.
Trischka is a past International Bluegrass Music Association banjo player of the year, and he is at least partly responsible for the banjo’s recent upturn as an important instrument in popular music, as expressed through Mumford & Sons and other world-touring Americana acts.
Beyond performance, Trischka’s talents extend to pedagogy. He has made scores of educational videos for banjo players, and it’s this aspect of his musicianship that makes him an exciting addition to the roster of the annual Trance Blues Festival in Boulder.
The festival, now in its fifth year under Boulder blues star Otis Taylor, is scheduled for Nov. 7 at eTown Hall in Boulder.
During the day, Taylor and visiting artists will lead participants in jam workshops. At night, it’s concert time, with Taylor and the other artists taking the eTown stage for a super jam.
Trischka, a Syracuse, N.Y., native who now lives in New Jersey, played the festival once before.
“It was a lot of fun,” he said of his previous Trance outing.
He spoke with the Daily Camera as he was waiting to board a plane last week from California, where he had just recorded more banjo instructional videos.
He noted the connection between blues and the banjo, an instrument whose origins can be traced to Africa through slaves brought to the New World.
“There’s a lot of blues in bluegrass,” Trischka said. “Growing up playing bluegrass, there was always blues there.”
He noted that musicians such as Arnold Schultz, who was born to a former slave and played blues guitar, was cited as a major influence by the father of bluegrass, Bill Monroe. Others, such as Gus Cannon, who developed a slide style in the 1920s, established banjo as a major blues instrument.
The Trance Blues Festival is open to players of all skill levels, and Taylor says participants don’t have to be “good,” they simply need to join in. Banjo is often viewed as a technically challenging instrument, an impression that stems largely from the ubiquity of the difficult “rolling” finger style, popularized by Scruggs. But Trischka is here to ease such fears.
“On a certain level, the banjo is a lot easier than other instruments” because it’s often tuned to a G chord, he said. “Any person off the street, if it’s in G tuning, can strum it and make a chord.”
Plus, he has developed effective methods to teach even Scruggs-style licks. That’s not to say Trischka can get students to sound like Scruggs, though.
“I’ve been playing for 52 years, and I’m still trying to play like Earl Scruggs,” Trischka said.
Other visiting artists at this year’s Trance Blues Festival include singer and bassist Cassie Taylor (Otis’ daughter), fiddler Anne Harris, Paul Rogalski and Jessica Rowand from Longmont band Mojomama, drummer Larry Thomson, guitarist Janet Feder, bassist Todd Edmunds, and bassist Alissa Chesis.
Workshops are scheduled for 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; the jam from 7 to-10 p.m. Admission is $50 for the workshop, $20 to attend the “grand jam” and $65 to attend the workshop by day and watch the jam by night. Workshop attendees younger than 18 must be accompanied by an adult.
If you go
What: Trance Blues Festival
When: 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 7
Where: eTown Hall, 1535 Spruce St., Boulder