Scary Stories for a Snowy Day

It was a winter many years ago when my mother shared two things with me. The first was a The Witch of Coös -New England ghost story disguised as a poem by Robert Frost. That was wonderful. The second was a paperback anthology of stories by Edgar Allan Poe.

It sticks out in my memory for several reasons. My mothers voice, reading loud so I could hear, as she read of the bones making their trip through the house in The Witch of Coos. The warmth of being bundled up in a blanket next to my mom as she helped me through some of the strange words in The Pit and the Pendulum and later the happiness of reading in bed until I drifted off to sleep.

I think I should point out that these stories never left me afraid. When I was ten I took a dare from some kids in town and crept out of the house to spend a summer night in the old graveyard down the street from our sandwich shop in Marshallton, PA. Some of the graves went back to the time of William Penn. I sat in the dark reading some of Jack London’s crazy horror stories by flashlight. No ghosts came to bother me, but I did see an owl and some deer. The only unpleasant part was the cold that comes right before dawn. I should have brought a jacket.

While we tend to center scary stories around Halloween, winter has always been my favorite time of year to curl up with a good gruesome tale. Autumn is so pretty, but winter is ugly and bleak with bare trees and howling wind.

My mother and I read every book in the Chester County and later Haverford Township libraries. We would visit the library once or twice a week and go home overloaded with books. We read everything we could get out hands on, but I always got a thrill when I came across something the was both scary and well written.

Algernon Blackwood, Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft stand out as the favorites of my childhood, and their stories are all available on the web in text or as audiobooks. If you are snowed in today, why not send a shiver down your spine?

If horror stories are not your thing, maybe introduce a kid to Robert Frost instead? I think a lot of my comfort with words, rhythm and melody is the direct result of my mother turning me on to poetry.

Doc Moonshine Interviews Patrick Costello

Doc Moonshine writes:
This is an interview I recorded, during the station that I broadcast with’s previous incarnation. during this conversation, Patrick and I discuss what lead us to music, Patrick’s philosophy on banjo playing and on making music in general, and what sets his teaching apart. like any good friends, there are methods Patrick and I agree on and methods we don’t. but that doesn’t stop us having a good laugh and hopefully teaching you a thing or too.

Ten Thousand Harmonicas?!

It’s been a long day for me. I woke up at 0-dark-thirty with a hideous migraine.

Thankfully, Dear Old Dad picked up more of my migraine medicine and Pooka has been glued to my side. Right about now I just feel like I have been run over by a truck hauling pig manure – and that’s a big improvement from this morning.

While I am laying low today. Dear Old Dad is busy scheduling banjo lessons and mom is working on her web site.  

I do have one cool bit of news to share! YouTube sent me a notice that my beginner harmonica lesson has passed ten thousand views! Wow!

I guess I have to add harmonica to my upcoming slate of workshops!

I am going to curl up with Pooka and a cheesy movie. Something really wonderfully grotesquely bad like Project Metalbeast, The Gian Claw or Head.

Have a great weekend!
God bless,

Wow . . .

When I started out on the banjo people were quick to tell me the limits of frailing/clawhammer/old-time banjo. in a lot of ways it was similar to the list of things my doctor said I would never do when I was diagnosed with epilepsy.

I proved the doctor wrong just like I proved the old-timers wrong. You can do ANYTHING with the technique of frailing!

Now that my students are frailing blues, bluegrass and bottleneck slide I have been pondering what comes next..

I can’t say much right now . . . but I have just experienced that next step. Something that will open a whole new world of music for frailing banjo players. All I can say is, “Wow!”

Expect updates sometime in 2019 and beyond!

Frailing Banjo Lessons!

I was chatting with somebody on Facebook the other day and I was told a story I hear all too often.

The story goes like this:

  • Person buys a banjo.
  • Person starts lessons.
  • Teacher presents the craft by handing out tab sheets for fiddle tunes.
  • Person finds Dear Old Dad and Patrick on YouTube.
  • Person mentions Dear Old Dad and Patrick to the teacher.
  • Teacher goes on a rant about the Costello family.
  • Teacher goes back to handing out tab for fiddle tunes.

Teaching and handing out tab are two different things.

Dear Old Dad gives a banjo lesson.

I started bluegrass lessons with my dad back in the 1970’s. In all our years making music, working as DJ’s, running a huge festival, managing a country music theater, Performing as The God Knows We Tried String Band, running a video music magazine, pioneering web-based education, pioneering open-source music instruction and launching a publishing company we have yet to meet one person who started out on the banjo wanting to play fiddle tunes.

We have been up and down the East Coast, out into the Midwest and through the Internet all over the world. We always hear the same things. People took up the banjo to make music on the front porch. To sing songs for their kids or grandchildren. To have fun.

Many people presenting themselves as teachers ignore what their students want and do a hard sell on a fictional version of traditional music that fits their skill set. Instead of introducing the student to the language of music, they take a shortcut. They hand over a tab sheet which leaves the student with no tools to build coordination, confidence or an understanding of the medium. Making music becomes memorizing the notes of fiddle tunes. Everything sounds the same!

The student is left feeling like a failure.

Banjo camps, banjo workshops at festivals and banjo lessons have fallen into this ugly routine of struggling to remember the tab sheet for a song that is not pleasing to the ear. If the student gets antsy the teacher will distract them with multiple obscure tunings or pointless technical exercises.

We have watched this long enough. It’s time to clear the deck and drive out the carpet baggers and joyless drones who are providing bad instruction.

We have already made enough information freely available for self-motivated beginners to teach themselves. Our books and video workshops are used by tens of thousands of students around the world. The missing element has been face to face instruction. Well, my father and I have decided to make ourselves ourselves available to students for personalized lessons via video chat.

Contact us at to schedule a phone meeting with Dear Old Dad. He will assess where you are right now and schedule a first video lesson with one or both of us. After the initial lesson we will give you suggestions on what to practice. Once you have that material down cold, contact us to schedule a second lesson.

If you have read The How and the Tao of Old Time Banjo this setup should be familiar to you.

“Ok now, get lost. Go on and work on that. Don’t come back until you can do like we showed you.”

So right about now you are wondering what these lessons are going to cost.
I am happy to tell you that the answer is nothing. 
There is no charge for this service!

Well, we have done this for free in the past and some people ended up behaving as if our time is not valuable. To avoid that we are asking for a few things if you come to us for instruction.

  1. Don’t waste our time.
  2. Don’t make excuses for not practicing.
  3. Stop paying for lessons based on memorizing fiddle tunes.
  4. Stop hanging around in banjo forums.
  5. Once you are playing, share as we shared with you.

If this is acceptable, contact us at to schedule a phone meeting with Dear Old Dad to discuss the possibility of scheduling an initial lesson.
Be sure to include a phone number.

Whirligig Uke-iversity Band

Joe in North Carolina writes:

Hello Pat and Patrick thank you for the inspiration. I was at your folk retreat a while back and also purchase several ukuleles from you ,,now. I have started a ukulele club at the local senior center. And this is some of the videos of one of our performances.