Bloomington Banjo Summit looks for a pickin' good time

Banjoes are only used in bluegrass, and played by old, toothless, overall-wearing men, right? The banjo is played in Appalachia. It's twangy. And it never, ever rocks. \nTell that to senior Toby Oler. \nOler is majoring in event coordination and perspectives on live music through IU's Individualized Major Program. For his final project, Oler is putting on the Bloomington Banjo Summit. With virtuoso musician Tony Trischka headlining the event, Oler is planning on showing the world just what this little five-stringed instrument can do.\n"I wanted to do a festival of some sort," Oler said. "These work better if you find a niche, and I play the banjo, so it's sort of self-serving. And I get to meet Tony Trischka. He kind of directed the way acoustic fusion went. He's one of the best banjo players in the world." \nThis is the first major event Oler has planned.\nThe evening will also feature local acts Not Too Bad Bluegrass Band, Blue Moon Revue, solo act Read McNamara and Oler's Newgrass group, Riders in Disguise. Oler explained newgrass as a style using bluegrass instruments, but without the bluegrass lexicon. \n"Newgrass uses the instruments, but broadens the horizons."\nOler said that performers Blue Moon Revue will provide a "very interesting contextual use for the banjo." In recent popular music, Matchbox 20 used the banjo in its song "Unwell."\nLocal performer and banjo teacher McNamara will be performing some of his original material, a few Bela Fleck songs, and a few rearranged traditional songs.\n"I'm much obliged for the spot," McNamara said. "I'm a big fan of instrumental arrangements. I'm a big fan of chamber-grass."\nThe summit was born from Oler's love of live music. He has been taking classes in music and business, as well as exploring legal issues in the arts. Oler has been working with music professor Glenn Gass and accounting lecturer Richard Schrimper.\nIn addition to his IMP coursework, Oler has attended various concerts and live music events and talked with music managers. He said the best music festival he's been to has been the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, because of "the familiar faces, great music, and beautiful setting."\nOler's mentor Gass said planning the festival has been an important stepping stone for his student, and that the concert will be filling a niche in music that is often ignored. \n"It's so much work, and it's been a unique learning experience," Gass said. "The icing on the cake is that the community gets a nice event like this. Today, there's a whole new re-definition of roots music. They're making it alive for today, and it's fun to twist expectations."\nGass cited the influence of the popular movie "O, Brother Where Art Thou?" as a catalyst for re-igniting the public's interest in bluegrass and related styles of roots music.\nThe Bloomington Banjo Summit will be held at the John Waldron Arts Center, and Oler said, "With the small room, there's not a bad seat in the house to watch a virtuoso musician."\n-- Contact assistant copy cheif Kehla West at

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