“I’ve never heard a banjo sound so beautiful,” remarked a friend when I played her a track from Adam Hurt’s CD, “Insight.”
It’s a common response. Most people haven’t experienced the banjo as a mellow sounding instrument with such a rich tone, until they hear Adam Hurt. “Adam really approaches the banjo as a full-spectrum instrument,” Marcy Marxer told me (Marxer is one of the top female flatpickers in the music business). “He has a beautiful use of melody and harmony with embellishments, and he’s a very thoughtful banjo player,” she said.
It’s a fascinating phenomenon that a guy in his mid-20s is having such a profound effect on a musical style hitherto dominated by players usually at least twice his age. And, what is this banjo style? First, what it’s not: it’s not 3-finger bluegrass banjo, which most of us are familiar through the playing of Earl Scruggs and his minions.
Hurt’s is a much older, traditional American banjo style known as “clawhammer.” Also known as “frailing,” clawhammer style uses only the thumb and middle or index finger. The finger always picks downwards, hitting the string with the back of the fingernail. Characterized by subtle rhythmic and melodic ornamentation, clawhammer banjo takes on an extraordinary elegance in the hands of a masterful banjoist, and Hurt’s playing really brings out the richness of this ancient musical tradition - almost like how a Renaissance lutenist might approach traditional old-time American mountain music on a 5-string banjo.
For his solo concert in Pagosa, Hurt will perform on several types of banjos. A gourd banjo is being shipped from Arkansas to Pagosa — especially for this event — by its maker, David Hyatt. Gourd banjos, originally introduced to this continent by African slaves, were probably on the early Colonial frontier in Virginia and North Carolina by 1750, and spread to other frontier areas from there. The remarkable sounds of this instrument and its historical significance add an exciting dimension to the performance.
We are very grateful to David Hyatt for loaning us the use of his gourd banjo to be used as part of for this concert. Hyatt writes, “Adam Hurt is a phenomenal and very focused banjoist. He is also a remarkably kind and thoughtful person. I am proud to be able to support this concert, sponsored by Elation Center for the Arts, by sending out a gourd banjo for Adam to play. Good luck guys, and I’ll be with you in spirit at the concert.”
Deemed a “banjo virtuoso” by the Washington Post, Hurt is renowned for his elegantly innovative clawhammer banjo style. At age 25, he has already won many major competitions and state banjo championships. Besides being highly in demand as a performer, he is a gifted and respected teacher who conducts banjo workshops throughout the US.
“I see talented people all the time,” said Marcy Marxer, “but every once in a while, someone is just over the top in terms of talent and what they choose to do with their talent, intellect and intuition — and they come out with something that is just so remarkable and beautiful that it’s amazing; it leaves me almost speechless. Adam Hurt is such a talent,” she said.
“For years,” continued Marxer, “the whole thrust of old-time banjo was to play it just like somebody else did. That was the definition of great; it still is, of course, in traditional music. If you can go back and you’re well versed in the classics and the great players, that’s a wonderful thing. What Adam did, was he went back and studied all that stuff and then he took it to a whole new level,” she said.
So, come to the concert at 7 p.m. Monday, April 20, and hear Adam Hurt coaxing exquisite tones out of his banjos. The program features the archaic modal sounds of West Virginia to the rambunctious, driving Round Peak music of Northwestern North Carolina, to the complex and technical tunes of Eastern Kentucky. Sprinkled throughout this traditional 5-string banjo concert will be a few of Hurt’s renditions of early American mountain music, on his fiddle.
Advance tickets for $12 are available online at elationarts.org and at the Higher Grounds Coffee Company. Tickets at the door are $15. Young people 18 and under will be admitted free of charge.
Please help us continue the tradition of sharing a dessert at the concert intermission social.
Pagosa Lakes Clubhouse is located at 230 Port Ave. in the Vista subdivision of Pagosa Lakes. Take U.S. 160 to Vista Boulevard; turn north on Vista, then left on Port. The clubhouse is at the end of Port in the PLPOA complex.
Elation Center for the Arts is a nonprofit organization that provides cultural arts programs to the community of Pagosa Springs. For more information, call 731-3117.