Old-Time Conversations by Craig Evans

Embracing Music and Community

This is a story of rediscovering a first love: music. Growing up in a small Iowa farm town, author Craig Evans witnessed how music, through his mother’s talent as a church organist, brought solace to the community. He was enthralled by the uplifting power of music. Although discouraged from pursuing a career in music, his longing for it never waned. Approaching middle age, disillusioned with business, he found himself drawn back to the joy and sense of community that music brings. This reconnection sparked a profound transformation in his well-being.

Inspired by this rediscovered passion, he embarked on a remarkable journey, capturing the stories of artisans, performers, and teachers of Traditional Music across North America. Through this book, the author shares these inspiring stories, hoping to encourage others to embrace and enjoy the transformative benefits of music. The author’s documentaries have been lovingly preserved for future generations by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.

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First reviews and applause for Old-time Conversations…

“In this testimonial to the five-string banjo, Craig Evans—author, musician, and filmmaker—finds a spiritual home and therapeutic community. His study centers on contemporary builders, players, and historians who tell a story of health, of a living tradition and sources of its longevity. From witnessing Doc Watson penetrate the core of a tune to coping with latter-day Jim Crow practice, from a disabled artisan making a surpassingly beautiful instrument, to a great scholar’s summation of broadcast minstrelsy, Old-time Conversations explores the fellowship of Southern Appalachian traditional music in the 21st century.”
— Stephen Wade, author of The Beautiful Music All Around Us: Field Recordings and the American Experience

“In this culmination of years of research, documentation, and performances, Craig Evans proves what many of us have experienced—that making music can be a path to joy, fulfillment, and healing. An impassioned writer, successful promoter, and banjo devotee, he grabs us by the collar and tells us story after story to make his case for the beauty and benefit of this iconic American instrument and the community of people who have devoted their lives to it.”
— Dan Sheehy, director and curator emeritus, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

“Welcome to Craig Evans’ world of banjo. It’s the builders and players. From attending the great yearly gathering in Clifftop, West Virginia he was introduced to a world of people who share a love of old-time music, Craig’s book takes you into the lives of important people in this world. He has explored it in great detail through this book and a series of videos where he has spent hundreds of hours researching and looking inside this. The Smithsonian Institution thought enough of Craig’s works to accept his oral histories into the national collections so those who want to research the music have it to explore.”
— Jeff Place, curator and senior archivist, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

“With joy and enthusiasm, Craig Evans paints a picture of a moment in time and, in so doing, captures the essence of a community that is not so much geographic in nature, but is, in fact, a community of the heart. Evans shows us a community bound by shared meals, togetherness, and a deep love for traditional American music. In Old-time Conversations, Craig Evans makes us aware that there is goodness in the world.”
— Howard Rains, artist, musician

“Craig Evans is a man on a mission, and traveling with him on that mission is almost as joyous as the music he and his subjects create. First through his own story, and then through the stories of those he interviews, he shows how old-time music-making has enriched the lives of individuals from many different backgrounds. He’s an excellent and perceptive interviewer, and the stories he coaxes from his subjects demonstrate how much fulfillment and satisfaction old-time music and the music community have brought to them—and can also bring to the reader who goes on this journey with him.”
— Tim Brooks, author, The Blackface Minstrel Show in Mass Media

“Old-time music has transformed Craig Evans’ life and that transformation has compelled him to have meaningful conversations with individuals who have made this music an important part of their life. These conversations shed light on the precious gift music provides an individual and gives us insight into how it binds us together. In Old-time Conversations, Craig Evans is preserving traditional music as it is today.”
— Tricia Spencer, musician, teacher, artist, author

“Blending autobiography, ethnography, and philosophy, Craig Evans’ engaging book deftly distills scores of interviews into rich portrayals of Southern old time string band music, its contemporary makers, and their motives.”
— Dr. James P. Leary, emeritus professor of Folklore and Scandinavian studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison, author of Folksongs of Another America

“Craig Evans has written an insightful book with intriguing questions and illuminating answers which delve into the lives of America’s troubadours. It belongs on every bookshelf.”
— James “Sparky” Rucker, folklorist, musician, historian, storyteller and author

“I was one of the first banjo builders Craig interviewed. He drove across 5 states to come to my house and meet me. We sat in the backyard talking about what it is that I do…and why I do it. Next, he asked to see my shop and show him how I make banjos. Nobody had shown that much interest in my banjo building before. Craig then went on to record quite a few more banjo builders and made a DVD of those films, now at Smithsonian Folkways. I figured filming this history puts a proper perspective on just how important a role the instrument builders play in the Traditional Music Community. These instruments give people their voice in the language of music. I felt thanking Craig was in order. So, I gave him a banjo for that effort.”
— Bart Reiter, banjo builder, retired

Conversations Included in the Book

Instrument Builders

Bart Reiter

Doc (Patrick) Huff

Pete Ross

Zachary Hoyt

Bill Rickard

William Seeders Mosheim

Old-Time Performers

Rayna Gellert

David Holt

Sparky Rucker

Clare Milliner

Mac Benford

Sheila Kay Adams

Paul Brown

John McCutcheon

Historians & Authors

Dwight Diller

Dr. Bill Malone

Dom Flemons

Tim Brooks

Dr. Josh Turnkett

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