Steve Martin Prize in Banjo & Bluegrass Winner, Danny Barnes Showcases His Artistic Evolution
With New Release, Got Myself Together (Ten Years Later), on Eight 30 Records
Joined by Grant Gordy (David Grisman Quintet) & Joe K. Walsh (Gibson Brothers).
6pm; $15; All Ages
300 S. High Street, Baltimore, MD 21202
The Seattle-area resident simply strips songs to their essence on the new recording “I spend a lot of time developing new contexts like the barnyard electronics aesthetic,” Barnes says. “Get Myself Together was my last acoustic-type recording and I get quite a bit of fan mail about it, but the label that released it went out of business. I wanted to make something with this record that featured more of my raw acoustic sound, as though I was kind of playing in your living room.” Barnes’ also offers a buoyant bonus track rerecording of his former band the Bad Livers’ high watermark “I’m Convicted.”
Longtime fans immediately will recognize Barnes’ quirky lyrics and unimpeachable banjo style jumping toward the fore with little distraction on the new record. “I had to come up with a different scene for each song,” Barnes says. “The original context for these songs was as though I had made a movie and everything was all committed to celluloid. However, with music you tend to shape things as you play them live. The routine: You write something, you record it, then you go play it for ten years on the road. So, in returning to the music, I had a different perspective. It’s more like a dramatic work in that the company that performs it and the venue it’s performed in necessarily changes the meaning.”
“I enjoy these songs and I think they are ‘real songs,’ if that makes any sense,” Barnes concludes. “They can be strummed on a one-string instrument and they still make sense and tell the story. They don’t depend on effects or processing. I think they are worth a busy person taking time to jam on them.”
“It is heaven and earth,” says superstar Dave Matthews, who also frequently calls Barnes to bat in his live show. “It is Americana from the back porch to the pulpit.”
A Texas native, Barnes is one of bluegrass music’s most distinctive and innovative performers. He is known for blending together different sounds which defy labeling while redefining the banjo’s perceived image in a wide-ranging and four-decade long career. From his early days as the driving force behind the impressive Austin-based Bad Livers, a band of pioneering Americana missionaries, through a prolific solo career and the development of his trademark approach he calls “barnyard electronics” (which is also the name of his 2007 album) that incorporates digital technology and various effect pedals to stretch the tonal range of the instrument, Barnes has always listened to his proudly offbeat inner voice. His live shows involve a computer program he built in max/msp and a banjo.
“Danny Barnes doesn’t sound like anyone else,” says iconic instrumentalist Bill Frisell, whose “Big Shoe” closes out the album proper. “I was knocked out when I first heard him play and continue to be.”
Recently, he was recording in his home lab when a package arrived from Steve Martin with a letter notifying him that he was the recipient of 2015 recipient of the “Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass.” The award provides the winner with an unrestricted cash prize of fifty-thousand dollars, as well as a bronze sculpture created specifically for the prize by noted artist Eric Fischl.
Got Myself Together hit the streets this fall and he’s already got another in the works for a straight up banjo record, and he’s working on a suite of contemporary music for banjo and tuba. Barnes has released over ten albums and has been featured on over 50 others. In addition to the albums, Barnes also has an avant garde “kinda” noise cassette tape label, Minner Bucket Records which specializes in limited run cassettes.
Barnes says, “I’ve been at this a pretty long time. The main thing I use to get my ideas across has been the banjo. It has an unusual sound and is capable of a wide range of expression, however it isn’t very developed yet, in terms of what is being done with it in a current macro sense. It’s untapped.”
His skills as an instrumentalist and his open embrace and infectious love of music for music’s sake, have brought him to share the stage and record with a wide array of marquee artists that reads like a who’s who among broad musical landscapes, ranging from bluegrass greats Bela Fleck, Del McCoury, and Sam Bush, newgrass stars Yonder Mountain String band, to Americana artists Robert Earl Keen, Lyle Lovett, and Nickel Creek, to Jam friendly Gov’t Mule, Leftover Salmon, and Keller Williams, to jazz and blues instrumentalists Bill Frisell, Chuck Leavell, and John Popper, to members of the punk and metal Butthole Surfers, Dead Kennedys, and Ministry. He’s collaborated and shared stages with the likes of Bill Frisell, Yonder Mountain String Band, Robert Earl Keen and Dave Matthews, as well as wailed on a flying V guitar with members of the Butthole Surfers.
—Julie Wenger Watson, Red Dirt Nation, No Depression