The Most Unusual Place I've Ever Played Banjo

I’ve not played that much for large gatherings; mostly less than 20 or so folks. On occasion, I’ve played for one or two hundred folks. But the most unusual place I’ve ever played took place years ago heading into downtown Birmingham (hmmm.. sounds a little like ‘The Promised Land’ that Elvis Presley sang.)

Anyway, I used to take the bus to work almost every day. I’d pick it up the Crosstown South #9 in Tarrant, then change in downtown Birmingham to go into the medical district, where I worked as a biologist.

I had a couple of pickin’ buddies at work, and we would bring our instruments to play during lunch. Some of the doctors really liked it, too. As a matter of fact, one of my fellow musicians was a doctor.

One day, while taking the bus to work, I noticed they changed bus drivers, as they usually do every few months or so. I now had this guy on the morning route that loved bluegrass music, and banjos in particular. He often said he was going to get me to play him a tune one day, and I always said ‘ok’, not thinking much else of it. At last the time came to change drivers again. He said:

“Today’s my last day on this route – play that thing for me!”

” You mean right here – on the bus!?”

“Sure, why not!”

I felt a little self-conscious, as I was about the only white person on the bus, and I knew that the banjo was an historically black instrument. But I didn’t know how typical black people still felt about it. Would playing it right there be akin to making crude jokes about watermelons or slavery days?

After just a moment, I figured most folks probably didn’t give it a second though, so I got out the banjo and proceeded to play ‘Duelin’ Banjos’. Right there on the bus, heading into downtown Birmingham.

And no one threw tomatoes at me. They all liked it and were a bit amazed to hear an actual banjo.

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About Phill Gibson

I'm from Huntsville, Alabama where I work as a Systems Engineer and part-time banjo and mandolin instructor. I've been playing various instruments since my teen years. I started mandolin at about age 17 and banjo at 20. I love just about all kinds of music. In terms of banjo styles, I play Scruggs and melodic and am working on becoming more advanced with single string. I'm also working on 4-finger banjo, which is way off the beaten path. I would like to see more jazz techniques integrated into bluegrass situations; counterpoint, especially. So long-term, that's what I'm doing. I'm also very keen on astronomy, ATM (amateur telescope making), birding, christian homeschooling, martial arts, organic gardening and about 30 other distracting hobbies to a (mercifully) lesser extent.
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