CULTURE- BUZZ BOX- Music man: Mike Seeger can do it all
A few years back, Mike Seeger might have been considered one of the last heroes of a fading tradition. These days, that's no longer the case– and that means that he's done his job.
As a roaming minstrel, Seeger spent decades fighting to keep old-time music alive in the face of a mainstream that was increasingly disinterested– and likely to confuse it with bluegrass, a related but distinct sister genre, when it did pay attention. He's pleased to see that things are finally starting to change.
"It's enjoying a re-popularity. People are writing books about it and reissuing recordings made over the last 70 or 80 years," says Seeger. He's been responsible for a few of the reissues himself, and takes particular pride in those projects where he's shepherded recordings of his favorite practitioners to market, sometimes dozens of years after capturing them on a field recording. The most recent of these was the Masters of Old-Time Country Autoharp compilation on Smithsonian Folkways records, the label Seeger has been working with ever since his first recordings in the 1950's.
"The most important thing is that they're playing it more, lots of young people," he says. He's likely hoping that a few neophytes will show up at his presentation on Sunday, August 27, part of a series of programs at Humpback Rocks Mountain Farm on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
"What I'm going to do in this program is play samples of the kind of music that people played in this region before the advent of radio and photograph, music that came before the 1920s," he says. The presentation is said to focus on the origins of banjo, but Seeger promises forays into the many other instruments he plays.
"I'll have a gourd banjo and several other instruments that were played back in the 19th and early 20th centuries," he says. "It's going to emphasize the banjo, but it's an introduction to the music that used to be played in our region." Expect bits and pieces of autoharp, harmonica, guitar, and fiddle, among others.
"It won't be too academic," he promises; this despite the fact that traditional musical forms have commanded increasing amounts of scholarly attention in recent years. The public is taking notice, too: Seeger's father, Pete, one of the most influential old-time musicians, is the subject of Bruce Springsteen's new tribute album.
"I'm overjoyed to hear other people playing this music," says Mike Seeger.
Mike Seeger offers an introduction to old-time instruments at Humpback Rocks Mountain Farm, Sunday, August 27. Free, 2pm.