Almost Here!

Patrickcostello.org is about to be unleashed upon on an unsuspecting public. Work has taken a lot longer than I anticipated, but that should not be a surprise. Moving forward as difficulties mount has been the story of my life. The important thing is, fast or slow, we are getting somewhere.

There will be two side projects attached to patrickcostello.org. Eclectic Electric Banjo and The Oral Tradition Project.

I have a teaser graphic for Eclectic Electric Banjo at the top of this post. Spread the word on this one because the more perspectives on the conversation the better. We will be starting from square one. Installing a pickup in the first video and taking it from there.

I have five amplifiers in the studio. From a dead simple practice amp to solid state modeling amplifiers with computer interfaces. To ensure that this is a mutual exploration, I will be learning how to use this equipment live. On-camera.

I will also be learning how to adapt my acoustic skills to work in this new medium on-camera. If I must buy more gear (for example, we probably need a preamp), I will do the shopping as part of the show.

That’s right. I have not installed my pickup or fired up the new amp yet. When this starts, we will be exploring together. I have never held any desire to be seen as a guru. I never wanted followers; I simply wanted friends and companions to jam with.

In other words, this won’t be the standard banjo tunes pumped through a chorus or phase pedal. This will be a celebration of what is possible. This is exactly where tradition and the folk process are supposed to lead us.

The series will be free, but each installment will be posted for Patreon sponsors a week before going public.

Speaking of the folk process…

The Oral Tradition Project

The Oral Tradition Project started out from a random observation while arguing with an idiot.

I had two revelations in that discourse.

  • Don’t argue with idiots.
  • Non-musicians mistakenly perceive the folk process as linear.

Folk music has never been a straight line, but for the last fifty years it seems like everybody is trying to rewrite our complex history into a simple narrative. A story arc with the right beats and a satisfying conclusion, just like the movies.

The truth is, at least in my experience, is that the folk process is a unique process for each of us. We start out with a basic skill set and head into the world. As we travel, we have unique experience that shape our understanding of the craft. Over time – and with a lot of practice – no two musicians end up playing the same.

Books and lessons by their nature tend to convey information from a single perspective. This can be useful in many ways, but there is a need in this age of social distancing for a resource that offers multiple perspectives. A book written not by one musician, but many.

The Banjo in The Words And Music Of Its Practitioners is the working title I have given to a loose lesson plan. After starting with universal subjects like setup and tuning, the plan branches off into down-picking and finger picking. If any tenor or plectrum players want to get involved, I will add headings for each.

Any banjo player will be welcome to make a video or audio lesson on any or all the subjects in the lesson plan. Additions to the lesson plan are also welcome. For example, Double C tuning or stretching gut strings to pitch on a frame banjo. Setting up a tension style tailpiece like a Kershner opposed to a No-Knot. There is room for everything – and room for multiple viewpoints.

The only hitch: nothing in writing. This is an oral tradition project. Everything must be taught the way it would be in-person.

The goal is to get as many lessons on each individual subject as possible. Even if we get 100 lessons on how to make a D7 chord, there will be room for more because the only way we can truly understand the banjo is to see all of us together as one.

I want this to be a database of information that continues to grow beyond our time. By all of us. The teachers of my teachers were unable to leave anything of themselves. We can tell our stories without drowning out other voices and still leave room for future generations to be heard.

This will be a totally not for profit project, and once things become unwieldy, I will upload everything to the Internet Archive and give it to the Public Domain. Even if you think I am an asshat (or vice versa), know that you are welcome to take part in this. We may not all like each other, but as banjo players, we are a family.

More information will be available when the site goes live.

Coming Soon: Eclectic Electric Banjo

Patrickcostello.org will be going live soon. Besides to our older and often more beginner-friendly content, I have an advanced workshop series in the works.

Eclectic Electric Banjo will assume that you have mastered the basics. The first workshop will cover installing a pickup on my banjo. From there, the series will go into using the banjo as a musical instrument in any setting.

This won’t be a genre or style-specific thing. If you want to play or sound like anybody other than yourself, this won’t be your bag.

To play along, you will need mastery of the basics, a bottleneck, and some sort of electrified banjo. There are no decent electric five-strings on the market at the moment, so a pickup is your best bet.

I will be using an EMG ACB-5 pickup and two amplifiers. A Boss Katana Artist MkII and a Spark.

I chose the two amps for both affordability and their ability to share settings. They also come with digital effects! The Spark has some nice options and the Katana sixty effects. Either amp has features that will give us the opportunity to learn together.

Eclectic Electric Banjo will start soon, exclusively at patrickcostello.org.

A Few More Days…

Patrickcostello.org is a few days away from launch. I never meant for it to take so long to put the bones of the site together, but between chronic pain and post-concussive troubles, work happens as I am able.

In other news, the solid-body electric banjo did not work out. A huge disappointment, but I already have a pickup on the way for my Somerset S1P. It won’t have the up the neck playability I was looking for, but it should be fun through my amp.

I really wanted an American-made amplifier, but I picked up a combo amp from Boss. This thing does everything but my laundry for the cost of one good American-made guitar pedal. It also hooks up to my iPad, so I will be able to send a Bluetooth feed directly to my one working BAHA sound processor.

In other news, quite a few people have written inquiring about my health. That is very kind, but please stop. I have a lot to work through, and explaining it to strangers over and over again makes things more difficult. When I have news, I will share it. Otherwise, I prefer not to talk about, and I doubt you would enjoy hearing, what my day-to-day life is like between off the scale pain, random seizures, and other issues.

If you want to drop me a note about music-related stuff, mail me a post card.

Patrickcostello.org will be up and running soon. Dear Old Dad and I will see you there.

Rocky

Friday night, I kept hearing a kitten crying every time I went into the backyard. It was dark and raining, and had no luck finding the animal.

The next morning, I found him. Hanging from a high branch in our mulberry tree like the critters in those loathsome motivational posters.

I dragged out a ladder and balanced myself on the highest rung to rescue it.

Now, I have not talked about my issues of late, but seizures, falls, and lack of balance are regular events nowadays. So, I was taking my life into my hands to help this cat.

The little monster darted out of my grasp and ran from branch to branch and then tree to tree like Tarzan until he was way up in the big pecan tree as I stood with my ass hanging in the breeze.

A few hours later, it was screaming and hanging from the same branch on the same mulberry tree. I dragged the ladder out. Again. I balanced my wobbly self on my crappy old ladder. Again. It ran from tree to tree. Again.

When I came out of the garage after putting the ladder back, he was sitting on the back steps waiting to be fed.

Dad named him Rocky, after Bullwinkle’s sidekick.

I guess we have a new cat. God help us all.

Blade

In the 1980s, I broke the tip off my father’s Buck knife breaking into the copy room at school. I ran off a stack of pages from a book of bawdy ballads titled Roll Me Over, and then I organized an impromptu dirty song singalong in the cafeteria.

I was sent home with the broken knife. The songbook was confiscated.

It took me twenty years to replace dad’s copy of Roll Me Over. Dad got over the broken knife.

After telling the story to a friend recently, he gave me some crap about breaking a good blade, and I realized I needed to make this right.

So, I got in touch with Buck Knives, and we came up with a suitable replacement from the custom shop. I even had Dear Old Dad engraved on the blade.

He said it was worth the wait, and I can borrow this one to break into someplace anytime.