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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.”

Fairfield Experiences Flurry of New Home Building

Fairfield Experiences Flurry 
of New Home Building:
Candy House Workshop 
inspires creativity
(Posted to 12/18)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – In the span of an hour or two, 20 new homes were erected in Fairfield’s Beach Area, but don’t bother going to see them. They likely will have been eaten by the time you arrive.

These homes were not the brick and wood structures you might expect but miniature candy houses constructed by teams of children and their parents at a Candy House Workshop held Saturday afternoon Dec. 18 at the Burr Homestead, 739 Old Post Road. The event was sponsored by the Fairfield Museum and History Center and required advance registration. More than two dozen people participated in the activity.

The museum’s Director of Education and Community Programs Christine Jewell had picked up all the candy supplies and, with docent Robert Garbarini’s help, was laying them out on two long tables in the historic home’s front hall. She wasn’t sure how many pounds of candy she had purchased, but said, “I have a small compact car and had to put the seats down. The candy filled the whole back.”

It was an impressive collection of goodies to be sure: Froot Loops, peppermint candies, Frosted Mini Wheats, red licorice whips, pretzel squares, fruit flavored snacks, Skittles, natural animal crackers, mini and large marshmallows, sugar cones, Gummi Bears, gumdrops, chocolate chips, M&Ms, graham crackers and candy canes.

In addition, 19 pounds of ready-to-spread vanilla crème icing, purchased from Bresky’s in Bridgeport, and milk cartons donated by Wade’s Dairy of Bridgeport and mounted to foamcore squares, were supplied to participants.

Museum coordinator Walter Mathis, dashing about with a Santa hat on his noggin, said, “Materials change from year to year depending on what’s in stock and where people go.” He guessed that this is the 15th consecutive year that the museum has been holding this event and said it had been initiated by a volunteer, Jeanne Harrison.

“It’s a nice family activity,” said Jewell. “Parents will bring their friends, kids will bring their friends, they’ll all hang out and socialize, and the kids will sneak some candy.”

“What’s amazing is the creativity of the people putting things together,” added Mathis. “They are unlimited in their design. But what’s even more magical is the people that return year after year, who have made this event part of their holiday family traditions.”

Arriving families collected their milk carton bases and reported to a sunny back room where several tables had been dressed with red plastic covers and topped with additional materials like plastic knives.

The Im-Haas clan of Fairfield – Dash, 7, Jolie, 4, and mom Elizabeth – were one of the returning families and had set themselves up at a windowside table. “The kids eat the house both during and after making it. I think it’s the first thing they ask to do as they begin,” said Elizabeth.

Frank Sabados, 5, and mom Alene, also Fairfielders, were returnees as well. “We did this last year. Now this is a new tradition that Frank and I do. His siblings are home sleeping. He’s an expert candy house maker,” she said.

“Mom, remind me not to eat it when we get it home like I did the other one,” suggested Frank.

Sydney Lennon, 8, brother Nate, 5, and Sydney’s friend Caroline, 8, collaborated on their home projects. Sydney and Nate’s mom Jessica was glad the museum was hosting the activity. “This is a fun, festive Christmas activity and we get to do it here, not at home. That’s a plus – no clean up!”

Deron Galusha had been recruited to bring his sons Patrick, 8, and Robert, 9, to the event. “My wife signed them up so she could go shopping. It sounded fun.”

Chris Hayes and his children Caylin, 8, and Ryland, 11, visiting for the holidays from California, had been led over by Chris’ mom Beth, a Fairfield resident. “They wanted to build a gingerbread house and, lo and behold, the museum was holding the workshop here,” she said.

Like a real construction site, rubble began to collect everywhere, but it consisted of graham cracker crumbs, icing globs and stray gumdrops instead of concrete and lumber scraps. And the work site uniforms were not overalls but chocolate spattered t-shirts worn by sticky-fingered carpenters.

Frank Sabados had made great progress with his creation and declared that it was Santa’s house. Mom Alene asked him if Santa had a dog. “No,” he said. “Do we have a dog?” she queried. “Yes… Daisy,” he said. “What would Daisy do to this house?” she pressed. “Eat it…. We better put it up high when we get home,” said Frank wisely.