I've had a fantastic couple of days working with Barry Bales and Ethan Jodziewicz on the record I'm making with Irish banjo and guitar master Damien O'Kane. It's always enlightening to see how the personalities of great players are embodied in the music they play - Barry and Ethan are both perfect examples of strong musical personalities who give a strong kick-in-the-pants to any record they play on. I failed to get a photo with Barry but here's one with Ethan.
I've been working on a cross-genre banjo record with this guy for awhile, and with the body of it recorded we're coming to the finishing touches. We've really managed to weave and weld some sounds solidly together. Damien O'Kane is a fantastic banjoist, guitarist, composer, arranger, and producer. We've got a tour coming up in the U.K. in July and August - check RonBlock.com/tour for dates.
Damien O'Kane and I will be finishing up a full-on banjophonic record soon, plus touring it in July and August and ending the tour at the Cambridge Folk Festival. I've also got a bunch of Alison Krauss Windy City Tour dates on my calendar, May through October. But first, I'm a guitar tutor at Sore Fingers Summer Schools in Kingham, U.K. at the beginning of April, and doing shows with The Vintage Martins at the end of April. All in all it looks like a fantastic year. RonBlock.com/tour shows all the tour dates.
Making a wacky, beautiful banjos record with these guys - Damien O'Kane, and Stevie Byrnes, with Josh Clark engineering with his killer work ethic - playing on Damien’s set at Celtic Connections, and getting to play on dang near all of Kate Rusby’s show, plus the added bonus of nights having fun with these guys, plus the ever hospitable and interesting Joe Rusby, plus the singing, working, intelligent Steve Rusby, and seeing the fantastic Pure Records folks, all in a stunningly beautiful, peaceful studio in Yorkshire - for me, these are great highlights in a musical life. Oh, yeah, and they’re all fabulous cooks.
Band photo of last night's Kate Rusby show with Lori Watson, Duncan Lyall , Steven Byrnes, Josh Clark, Donald Grant and his string players, Nick Cooke, Damien O'Kane, Ross Ainslie, at The Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. Playing music with these folks is a peak experience - it's a class act through and through.
When I look back over at all these photos from the past year, I am really grateful for the people I get to make music with; I'm grateful for my old friends, and for new friends, and for all the folks who buy the music and come to the shows. It has truly been a fantastic year, and these are some of the highlights: 1. The year started with video and television promo in the US and in London with Alison Krauss for her Windy City record; later in the year we did a bunch of US touring with Alison and David Gray. Matt Rollings, James Mitchell, Jerry Roe, Barry Bales, Sidney Cox, Suzanne Cox. 2. The Soggy Bottom Boys, as fine a bluegrass bunch as I could have dreamed up. Mike Compton, Pat Enright, Stuart Duncan, Barry Bales, Dan Tyminski, and sometimes Jerry Douglas. 3. Recording with Damien O'Kane. He is a heck of a musician, singer, producer, arranger. Josh Clark is engineering, and he's a pleasure to work with. I'll be finishing up this crazy banjos record next month, and touring in mid-July in the U.K. with that Irish banjo monster. 4. Thrilled to play banjo on Kate Rusby's beauty of a Christmas record, Angels & Men. 5. Sore Fingers, the bluegrass/old time music camp near Oxford, England, where I had an incredible time teaching and jamming and generally just having so much fun with great musicians and friends. 6. Played banjo on Damien's fabulous new record, Avenging and Bright. If you've never heard Damien O'Kane, get this record. 7. Buddy Greene and Jeff Taylor - whenever I get to play with them, these guys are a blast. 8. Mark Fain, Trey Hensley, and Rob Ickes: Great gig with these dudes. 9. Playing for Stuart Duncan's show at the Country Music Hall of Fame. This guy is one of my all-time favorite musicians. 10. Playing my own show at the Country Music Hall of Fame with Eric Uglum. This guy has been a true friend and musical compadre for decades. He also mixed my records Walking Song, Hogan's House of Music, Trouble Go Down, and my two Christmas records. We also played a festival together with Bud Bierhaus after the end of the Alison tour. 11. Playing with the Clay Hess Band. Clay is one of the most absurdly talented people I know, and I had a bunch of fun with his band. 12. Recording with Adam Steffey, Barry Bales, Dan Tyminski, and Jerry Douglas all at once. Unbelievable musicians. 13. Doing my first-ever online banjo workshop - four Tuesdays from mid-November to mid-December, on Zoom.us. These sessions, plus bonus lessons and extras, are up on my site. I've had fun with all of you on the live bit, in emails, and in the comments sections of the workshop blogs. 14. Recording short intro-outro bits for Jonathan Rogers's show, Andrew Greer & Mark Lowry's show (and being on their show!), and other fun bits here and there. 15. Recording with Marc Martel. One of the most flexible, dexterous voices I've ever heard. I played banjo on his Christmas record. 16. Daystar Ministries benefit with Alison Krauss, Ben Isaacs, and Becky Isaacs Bowman. That was some real singing happening there, plus the timing felt great. 17. As always, a fitting end to my year is Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb of God show at the Ryman. It's a fitting, hopeful, and beautiful gift to visit with all those friends all in one place for a day and evening.
Hello, banjoists! If you're looking for a banjo jump-start to kick off the new year, I've got a brand-new online workshop on RonBlock.Com. Over seven hours of teaching, with tablature. Early intermediate to early advanced. TOPICS COVERED: 1. Releasing tension takes the lid off our abilities 2. How I practice timing and feel 3. Dynamics 4. Tone 5. A unique one-string approach to learning scales 6. String bending technique 7. Backup - backing vocals and other instruments 8. Putting two-string scales together up and down the neck 9. Mixing single-string playing with rolls 10. "Mollie Catherine Carter" (from Hogan's House of Music) 10. Slow banjo BONUS LESSONS: "Will You Be Loving Another Man?" (Earl Scruggs w/Bill Monroe) - "Clinch Mountain Backstep" (breaks 1 and 2 from Hogan's House of Music) - "Man of Constant Sorrow" (from the O Brother Soundtrack) - "Foggy Mountain Special" (from the Earl Scruggs tribute record). More bonus lessons will be added soon. EXTRAS: Free download of my banjo-oriented solo instrumental record, Hogan's House of Music - a free PDF of my long out-of-print Traditional Banjo Workbook - plus other free extras. Available only on RonBlock.Com! A FEW OF THE WORKSHOP REVIEWS BY STUDENTS: "This was an incredibly helpful workshop, I felt like I had stalled with my progress....until now." ".....really teaches us to fish, not just feed us for a day. I feel that way about all the content, that it is all geared to us unlocking our own creativity while keeping the 'fun factor' high." "Thanks for the 'big picture' and conceptual overviews of banjo playing from a pro's viewpoint..." "You gave away WAY more than you needed to. A simple discount code for merchandise on your website would've been more than enough. Though it was all VERY much appreciated!" "You are so detailed and a perfectionist....which is one of the reasons I signed up for this class."