Went to Beacon…Saw a Show…Bought a Banjo

TCLast time I was in Beacon, N.Y., just an hour or so north of the lower Hudson Valley, was this past January on MLK Day. Pete was going to lead us around the block where the church sits and we were gonna sing the same songs he sang with Dr. King on the Selma-to-Montgomery march. He felt ill in the car as he made his way to where we sat waiting and had to turn back home, so we marched and sang extra loud. Just a week later we lost him.

A few Sundays ago, we drove up the Taconic for dinner and a show at the Towne Crier Cafe, the club Phil Ciganer founded in 1972. It was located first in Beekman, then moved to Pawling for a couple of decades, and last summer relocated to the brand new beautiful space on Beacon’s Main Street. Sitting on the river that Pete loved and worked so hard to clean up with the Clearwater organization, the town appears to be thriving and bustling with activity from art galleries, craft stores, restaurants and, right across the street from the club, we wandered into Jake’s Main Street Music.

Seeing that the lights were on inside, and being hardly ever able to pass by an indie music store without going in, we went through the door and met Jake’s dad David Bernz. I fiddled around a little with the banjos and guitars, and we all played a game of Six Degrees of Pete Seeger. David knew my friends Joe and Clare, and while I didn’t at first notice the award sitting in the case, it turns out that he produced the last four of Pete’s albums — two of which were Grammy winners. He is an amazing musician in his own right, currently playing banjo and recording with the band Work O’ The Weavers.

Listening to him play, hearing some great stories, feeling the spirit of Pete and all the other musicians who’ve travelled up and down the path along the Hudson, put me in the mood to learn the five string. But we were hungry, for food and music, so off to the Towne Crier Cafe we went.

It was a last minute schedule change that brought us up to Beacon. Somebody had cancelled a gig, and were replaced by the Shovel Ready String Band and the almost-local trio Tall County. Both bands played great sets, with the string band opening the night by delivering old time music that was both polished and authentic. They have a new album they’re mixing (which features original music as well) and I’ll be looking forward to it. Tall County is a younger band, who take the old traditional sounds and styles, and apply them to new material. Unlike many of the current favorites, I don’t recall hearing any ‘hey…ho’s’ or 2/2 strumming.

Over the next few days I got the fever and chills. Visited the doctor and was told I had caught banjoitus. No known cure, but I called David, placed an order and picked one up on Father’s Day. Barely able to play the damn thing, but it sure is nice to look at. I feel a whole lot better too.

Here’s a little Shovel Ready for you.