Interview with Adam Hurt who will play the first Great British Banjo Session
The 14th May will mark the first of the Great British Banjo Sessions. Adam Hurt and Beth Williams Hartness will be playing this first session at Dragon Hall. You can buy tickets here.
They’ll be performing duets of traditional music from Appalachia and beyond with clawhammer banjo, fiddle, fingerstyle guitar, and vocals.
To get you all excited about the gig on the 14th, we’ve been speaking to Adam to find out a bit more about his history with the banjo.
Of course, the first question I asked was how long Adam had been playing the banjo. He said: “I began playing in 1995 at the age of eleven.” With so many years under his belt it’s no wonder people are so excited to see him play in May.
As with all our musician interviews, I asked about influences. Adam talked about his history with the banjo: “Before finding my way to American old-time music in general and clawhammer banjo in particular, bluegrass mandolin served as my gateway to the world of traditional music. Although I no longer play that instrument, and bluegrass banjo never moved me a great deal, that context certainly does inform my music today.
“Bill Monroe, the late, great father of bluegrass music, was an old-time musician at heart; his take on that music just happened to be original and passion-filled enough to become a separate genre, but one that is more closely related to old-time music than many in both camps care to admit. Early bluegrass, then, or at least contemporary bluegrass played in a very traditional way, is a significant influence for me.”
Adam also has a number of musical heroes. “Some of my early clawhammer banjo heroes were Richie Stearns and Rafe Stefanini, two contemporary and very different practitioners to whom I was exposed in person while the banjo was still quite new to me, as well as Kyle Creed and Tommy Jarrell, two historical giants whose recorded music and numerous friends and students have affected me deeply.”
Musical influences and tastes vary with time and Adam is no different in that respect. He said: “That said, I am lately more inspired by old-time fiddling than by old-time banjo playing. Fiddlers whose work I quite admire, both historical and contemporary, and whose music has somehow impacted my own, include Ed Haley, Emmett Lundy, Tommy Jarrell once again (better known for his fiddling than for his banjo playing, although he was a master of both), Stephanie Coleman, Mark Simos, and the list goes on.”
It’s obvious that we all love the banjo as a musical instrument here at The Great British Banjo Company but I wanted to hear what Adam loves about the clawhammer banjo. He said: “I love the fact that it can be a complete musical experience, equal parts melody and rhythm with neither requiring the complete sacrifice of the other.
“So many of the clawhammer banjo’s peers favor one end of the melody-to-rhythm spectrum over the other, and as such can often sound incomplete on their own, but this instrument played in this style is so wonderfully all-encompassing. I am also drawn to its unusual timbre, again unique among its peers, at once warm and brilliant, dark yet direct.”
This, again, shows just how versatile this instrument is.
Music makes an impact on so many people’s lives, Adam included. Of this, he said: “It has become the large part of my life, for better or for worse. I am fortunate to have figured out a way to make a modest living playing, and mostly teaching others to play, old-time banjo and fiddle.
“Despite occasional frustrations, it is a wonderful thing to be able to spend my productive hours doing something that I enjoy and helping others reach their own musical goals, while also not having to work ridiculous hours or be on the road constantly. The advent of Skype has given me access to a global market, too, such that only a small handful of my students come tome from across town, with the others coming from elsewhere in the US as well as from the UK, Australia, Canada, and beyond, all through the magic of the internet.”
Finally he added: “I am so honored and excited to have been invited to participate, along with my musical partner Beth Williams Hartness, in the Great British Banjo Sessions! We are looking most forward to the experience.”