This week I’ve had the distinct pleasure of seeing two duo shows, both featuring the banjo. Sunday night the Fiddle and Pick in Pegram, Tenn, hosted Bill Evans and Megan Lynch, a.k.a. BEML. I’ve seen them do their duo thing on at least one previous occasion. It is great and hilarious. They always make a joke out of how many different banjos Bill feels the need to carry around the country with him. At this show three different banjos made an appearance: his Granada, a cello banjo, and an electric banjo that actually sounded really cool. I’m not generally a fan of electric banjos, but this one totally worked.
Megan does most of the singing and much of the pithy stage banter while Bill mostly tunes. JUST KIDDING! Bill has pithy stage banter, too. And sings. Actually, when there are only two people on stage, there is little space for tuning. You can’t just step back from the mic during a song to touch up a string that has slipped. You have to roll with it. For the sake of the show you have to pretend that absolutely nothing is wrong, even if one string is making you cringe. The audience mostly can’t tell the difference, and the people who CAN tell the difference understand exactly what it going on.
On the last song, Bill’s third string slipped and was noticeably flat. He didn’t even flinch a little bit. It was exactly how an out of tune instrument should be handled. I was watching and wondering, though, what he was going to do about the final note. They were in G, so that third string was going to be the last thing we heard. When he got there he did what I was hoping he’d do: played it on the fifth fret of the fourth instead of the open third. In tune!
BEML has been touring a lot lately, so if they’re near you, or a couple or four hours away, so see them! They often do some sort of workshop in conjunction with their show---education and entertainment in one package. Such a deal.
The second duo act was the relatively new pairing of Ned Luberecki and Stephen Mougin: Nedski and Mojo. They played the relatively new Wednesday night radio/live show at the Loveless Café called Music City Roots. It’s broadcast on WSM and has a format similar to the Grand Ole Opry. The two-hour show had five acts. Jim Lauderdale was the host, Eddie Stubbs was the radio announcer, and journalist Craig Havinghurst did short interview segments with the artists during the stage set-up time.
Nedski and Mojo’s segment was only three songs long, but they packed a lot of entertainment into a short time. Stephen is an amazing singer and guitar player, and Ned can do just about anything on the banjo, but what sets them apart is their sense of humor. They sang Ned’s original song, “Cabin of Death,” which, as he says, is the perfect bluegrass song since it features a cabin, family, a hill, and people dying. I’ve seen him sing it many times now, but this time it had an added bonus: the perfect banjo lick bit.
While Stephen keeps time on the guitar, Ned explains about the perfect banjo lick, which is the choke that starts out the high break of Foggy Mountain Breakdown---the one that is Ralph Stanley’s signature lick. It’s perfect because it will work over any chord, which Ned proceeded to demonstrate: G (yep), C (yep), D (yep). But those were easy. F (surprisingly, yep). Bb (mmmm, a stretch, but yep). B. B? (not so much). The almost perfect banjo lick!
It cracked me up. And Ned tied it in nicely on the big jam song at the end, which was really loud and raucous because everybody was on stage at once. I could hear Ned over on his end of the stage, wailing away on the perfect lick, and it worked in every chord.
Nedski and Mojo tour sporadically, since they have to fit dates in between Stephen’s regular gig playing with the Sam Bush band and Ned’s regular gig playing with Chris Jones and the Nightdrivers, but they are well worth keeping an eye out for!