Back at the beginning of May, we gave you information about the Online Oldtime Banjo Festival, hosted by Brad Kolodner and Cathy Fink. Although it was meant as an online alternative to the Mike Seeger Commemorative Old Time Banjo Festival, it was such a hit that Brad and Cathy decided to host a second festival this coming weekend, June 19-21. We sat down with Brad and Cathy to get their thoughts about moving a physical festival into an online space.
Tell me about where the idea for the Online Old Time Banjo Festival came from? I presume corona played some role in all this!
Cathy: For many years, I hosted an Old Time Banjo Festival at the Birchmere Music Hall and other venues in the Washington, DC area. There were 12 years of concerts and workshops. I took a break last year, but when quarantine hit, I wanted to revive the event and asked Brad Kolodner to partner with me. Brad is a great banjo player and community builder and has been the perfect partner in organizing and running this.
What response did you expect from the community to this new event format?
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Brad: Much like everything else these days, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Cathy and I had some baseline level of confidence that if we put together a well-staffed and well-executed event, we’d get some signups. We wanted to keep it relatively affordable so anyone could tune in. I thought we might have a couple dozen people in each workshop. Boy, was I wrong! Most workshops had anywhere from 70-90 people in them! There was clearly a big demand for this kind of event.
Cathy: The response was wonderful and the large number of people who took workshops and attended the virtual concerts surprised Brad and me. People were ready to work on their music and learn from some great artist/instructors. It was SO successful, we are running the 2nd rendition this week with a wonderful cast including Rhiannon Giddens, Joe Newberry, Rachel Eddy, Laurel Premo, Paul Brown. This time Brad and I will also do workshops.
After your experience with the first Online Banjo Festival, do you see online festivals like this as a less-preferable alternative to in-person festivals, or do they have their own set of advantages and disadvantages?
Brad: Nothing beats sitting knee-to-knee with someone playing tunes into the wee hours under the moonlight in the woods. That said, virtual concerts and festivals have played a crucial role keeping artists like us working and keeping the music alive. While I’d prefer not to sit in front of my screen all day, these online festivals are a helpful lifeboat right now for musicians and fans alike. We’re craving connection and these streaming events remind everyone that we’re all out there, trying our best to hang in there. From a practical standpoint, these festivals have very little overhead – no facility rental, no travel expenses, no attendance limit, etc. While the technology can be frustrating, it allows so many more to have access to the event.
Cathy: Advantage – people from ALL over the world attended both workshops and concerts. The world got smaller, the community got bigger. Disadvantage – Not being in the same room with people during a concert is weird, but we are adapting. With “chat” and “comments”, we can interact and given the pandemic, I’ll call that an opportunity.
Do you think that online festivals will become a staple alongside other kinds of events?
Brad: I predict specific elements of these festivals will carry on and some will not. For example, workshops via Zoom are likely to continue beyond the pandemic as they are an excellent learning experience. I’m a bit skeptical about the future of online jams as they seem like a temporary replacement for in-person jamming. Streaming concerts were already a staple of the music industry before the pandemic, albeit on a much smaller scale. I think you’ll see a large dropoff in online-only streaming events. However, I think we’ll see an uptick in the streaming of in-person concerts. Many in the music industry have invested a lot of energy into learning the technology and designing a new format of experiencing music. While I don’t expect these virtual events to replace in-person festivals, they will become a strong supplement to an already rich festival landscape.
Do you have any concerns as the oldtime community engages in more online activity that this will affect the social nature of the music or privilege younger, more tech-savvy musicians?
Brad: I’m not concerned about how this might adversely affect the social nature of the music. We’re social beings and crave in-person connection. If anything, this quarantine is reminding us how lucky we are to have social music! I have noticed that those participating in the online streaming events skew towards a younger, tech-savvy demographic but that’s about par for the course with technology and social media anyway. If anything, these online streaming events provide access to an older demographic who may not have the ability or desire to travel.
What are you planning next?
Cathy: The 2nd Online Old Time Banjo Festival happens this weekend, June 19-21 with concerts Friday and Saturday, workshops Saturday and Sunday and a jam session Sunday. For more info, head to https://www.cathymarcy.com/otbf-2-june-2020/
Then heads up, there is an Online Old Time Banjo Contest in the hopper to take place between August 1-8. Stay tuned for info at https://www.facebook.com/MikeSeegerotbanjofest/