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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Easton Banjo Society Strums Up Holiday Fun

Easton Banjo Society 
Strums Up Holiday Fun:
Community Theater sing-along benefits
(Posted to 12/19)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – Children danced in the aisles, parents clapped in time and old-timers sang along as the banjos plucked out holiday beats. It was old-fashioned fun and a good time for all.

The site was the Community Theater at 1424 Post Road and the entertainers were fourteen members of the Easton Banjo Society who had gathered together Sunday afternoon Dec. 19 to perform “A Banjo Christmas and Sing-Along” to benefit

The band was formed in 1957 by several Easton men and has played town events for the past 53 years. They are a regular highlight of Fairfield’s Memorial Day parade, though their greatest moment was playing on the White House lawn on July 4, 1981 for then-President Ronald Reagan. The group also supported the Statue of Liberty restoration ceremonies.

Instruments include tenor, plectrum, 5-string, mandolin and guitar-style banjos, though the band is often backed by ragtime-style piano, sousaphone, drums and washboard as well. Their repertoire includes American songs drawn mainly from the mid-19th century up to the early 1930’s. This includes such folk classics as “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”, “Sweet Georgia Brown” and “My Gal Sal.”

The performance attracted an audience of about 70 people, many of whom were dressed in colorful red and green holiday attire.

Co-Director Mick Reed, 40, remarked that he is the band’s youngest member. “Some of the members are in their early 80s and, once a year, we rehearse with one of the early founders, Bob Chamberlain, who’s 95.”

Reed first joined the group in the mid-1990’s, playing for a couple years before moving into New York to pursue television film production. When he moved back to Fairfield three years ago, he bumped into Will Tressler, a semi-retired member, who suggested he start playing again. Reed plays a 4-string or plectrum banjo.

“We do mostly gazebos and private parties,” said Reed. “This is the first time we’re doing a Christmas show and we hope it becomes part of a family holiday tradition.”, the concert beneficiary, is a program of the Community Film Institute, an organization started by Reed and real estate developer and Community Theater owner Leo Redgate. The group introduces young people living in underserved areas to film and video.

“We give them Flip Video cameras and set them up with Macs to do edits,” said Reed. “The main thing is for them to have fun and shoot whatever they want. This is the third year of the program and we hope that the kids will come back as instructors.”

Reed said the program is currently run out of the Burroughs Community Center on Fairfield Avenue in Bridgeport, though he hoped to expand it to other community centers.

“We found out half the kids are into skateboarding, and they are making almost professional skateboarding videos,” said Reed. One such student is Danny Freeman, 14, of Bridgeport who was attending the Christmas show.

“The program is amazing. My focus has been on filming skateboarding and guitar playing,” said Freeman. “My work has been up on the internet and is getting some attention from companies who want to sponsor me as a skateboarder.”

While the band strummed out holiday favorites like “Let It Snow”, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Jingle Bells”, just a few of the 22 songs on their playlist for the event, Reed’s wife Tisola, 29, and their 16-month-old daughter Sohana danced in the aisle.

“I think we’ve been to all the shows, whether Sohana is asleep or awake,” said Tisola. “This is very exciting because of the holiday focus… and many of our neighbors and family are here. We get a lot of hillybilly music at home. Sohana really relates to the banjo because of the vibration. She actually grabs it and plays it like a sitar.”

They weren’t the only aisle dancers. William Erickson, 4, Lucinda Erickson, 2, their cousin Noah, 4, and Liam Furlong, 4, circled about and rolled around to the bubbly beats. William and Lucinda’s mom said, “Mick recruited my husband Keith this year to play banjo. He’s always been musical and plays guitar and ukelele.”

Reed’s parents, Joe and Jeanne Reed, were also in the audience. “We came from Ohio for the concert and for the holidays. We love the banjos.”

Louise MacCormack might as well be a family member, as she has enjoyed the band for over 30 years. “I’m enjoying hearing Mick, whom I’ve known since babyhood, and watching his daughter having fun. It’s nice to see the younger people here.”

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