Sunday, July 23, 2000

Visitors put on banjo show

Historic Lebanon is a good match for group's old-time music

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer Contributor

        LEBANON — Who needs 76 trombones when you can have a marching serenade of strings?

(Tony Jones photos)
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        The strings in this case belonged to a phalanx of banjos, played by members of the Fretted Instrument Guild of America (FIGA).

        The musicians strummed and marched their way through Lebanon's historic district Saturday morning, and then rendered some crowd-pleasing tunes at a free concert on the lawn of Berry Middle School.

        Ida May Schmich played two sets of plastic sticks called bones, keeping time to “Bill Bailey.”

        “I'm a new FIGA member, and I'm enjoying it immensely,” said the St. Louisresident. “I want to learn to play a mandolin I inherited.”

        FIGA is all about love of music, said spokesman L.J. Brown of New Orleans.

        “We're out to have a good time and foster interest in fretted instruments such as the banjo, mandolin, guitar, zither, dulcimer and ukulele,” he said.

        FIGA is in the Tristate for its annual convention. Since Thursday, members have been performing and jamming at the Drawbridge Inn in Fort Mitchell, Ky.

        Despite the “America” in the organization's name, FIGA has members in 16 countries in Asia, Europe and South America. U.S. members number about 1,800.

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        Proceeds from fund-raising at FIGA's annual conventions support scholarships for young people who want to study fretted instruments.

        “This is not country or rock, but music from the late 1800s through the roaring '20s,” Mr. Brown said. “We play four-string banjos. Many of our banjo players played in Shakey's Pizza Parlors and in the big bands of the '30s and '40s.”

        The group of about 60 musicians met with smiles and applause from streetside spectators in Lebanon's historic downtown.

        “It doesn't get any hometownier than this,” said Becky Dunn, executive director of the Lebanon Chamber of Commerce.

        The idea for a free concert in Lebanon and a parade down Broadway was initiated by FIGA members, who always seek out a historic music venue near their convention site.

        “We had 457 banjos, plus a few horns and drums, marching down Bourbon Street in New Orleans during our 1994 convention there,” Mr. Brown said.


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