#95: Banjo Battles and the Uke-clear Explosion

December 5th, 2012

The slender bearded white man on the sales floor didn’t even have to check with the slender bearded white man behind the counter or any of the slender bearded white men in the halls of the Old Town School of Folk Music — it’s still banjos.

Yep, as of Christmas shopping season 2012, banjos retained their spot as the hot musical instrument of the year, the first slender bearded white man said.

And it looks to stay that way, he added. No new comers are on the horizon as the next quirky instrument for indie bands where the women wear sundresses and them men are slender, bearded and white.

However, he said there continues to be movement in the ukulele sector, sluggish since the bubble burst in 2011.

“Ukes are still popular,” SBWM1 said. “We sold three or four today.”

The Old Town School always keeps a few token obscure musical instruments among the walls of guitars at their Lincoln Avenue store. An accordion perches on a shelf behind the register. One of those triangular Russian guitarry things the Internet calls a “balalaika” hangs above a dulcimer. They sell those wooden scrapers the music teacher used to give the kids who couldn’t be trusted with maracas.

But silvery round banjos now take up a whole chunk of the wall display space away from the guitars. Brightly colored Hawaiian ukuleles wrap the store’s perimeter like Christmas garlands. This has gone beyond novelty into that precious realm known as “fad.”

In fairness, the Lincoln Lounge has had banjo night for years. The Old Town School itself is no johnny-come-lately. That’s the “Folk Music” part of the name at work.

But all of a sudden, banjos are everywhere, long-hidden love for the instrument spurting out among musicians at a time when, coincidentally, it happens to be really, really cool.

The banjo’s star is still on the rise, slender beardo said. But what will replace it as it replaced the uke? The lute? The zither? A Thai jackfruit krachap pi? What will Zooey Deschanel make us play next?

I do know a girl who can rock out on the washboard. Just sayin’.

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You are currently reading #95: Banjo Battles and the Uke-clear Explosion by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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