Elation Center for the Arts presents “Adam Hurt, North Carolina Banjo Virtuoso,” in concert at 7 p.m. Monday, April 20, at the Pagosa Lakes Clubhouse.
“What may appear to be rather basic melodies can in fact express unspeakable emotions and evoke the experiences of generations past,” says Adam Hurt.
Deemed a “banjo virtuoso” by the Washington Post, Adam Hurt is renowned for his elegantly innovative clawhammer banjo style.
Melodically intriguing, rhythmically exciting, aesthetically appealing — Hurt’s “clawhammer” hearkens back to an American folk banjo style that was popular in this country hundreds of years before the advent of bluegrass.
Clawhammer banjo music has a pleasing buoyancy, an amalgam African beat and Celtic dance. Characterized by subtle rhythmic and melodic ornamentation, clawhammer banjo style can convey an extraordinary elegance in the hands of a masterful banjoist.
Hurt’s playing really brings out the richness of this ancient musical tradition – how a classical lutenist might approach traditional old-time American mountain music on the 5-string banjo.
“I grew up in a classical music-focused family,” says Hurt. “My father made his living playing violin with the Minnesota Orchestra and conducting private violin lessons at home. My mother was an amateur, but dedicated, pianist. I was surrounded by those sounds and by positive attitudes toward ‘formal’ music throughout my childhood. Even though classical music ended up not being for me, I feel fortunate to have been given an appreciation for it, early on.”
I asked him about his early musical memories and experiences.
“My mother was a minister,” he said, “and I remember from an extremely young age (perhaps two or three years old), being enraptured by the sound of the enormous pipe organ at her church.”
“My parents got me started young with classical piano lessons, beginning around age four. Early on, I figured out a trick to make my piano studies go a bit more easily. When my teacher introduced a new piece of music, I asked her to play it through for me a time or two. As she did this, I was able to internalize enough of the sounds to be able to play most new pieces primarily by ear. I sometimes wonder what might have come of this interest had I not discovered folk music.”
For his solo concert in Pagosa, Hurt will perform on several types of banjos including a beautiful gourd banjo, which was sent from Arkansas, especially for this event, by its maker David Hyatt. Gourd banjos, originally introduced to this continent by African slaves, were on the early Colonial frontier in Virginia and North Carolina by 1750, and spread to other frontier areas from there. The remarkable sounds of this instrument and its historical significance add an exciting dimension to this performance.
We are very grateful to David Hyatt for loaning us the use of his gourd banjo to be used as part of for this concert. Hyatt writes, “Adam Hurt is a phenomenal and very focused banjoist. He is also a remarkably kind and thoughtful person. I am proud to be able to support this concert, sponsored by Elation Center for the Arts, by sending out a gourd banjo for Adam to play. Good luck guys, and I’ll be with you in spirit at the concert.”
This concert is a rare opportunity to experience the technical skill, feeling, and creativity of an artist whom many aficionados feel is at the top of his field. Hurt’s playing is firmly rooted in tradition, but moves beyond the expected. “I’ve never heard a banjo sound so beautiful,” remarked a friend when I played her a track from Adam Hurt’s CD, “Insight.” It’s a common response. Most people haven’t experienced the banjo as a mellow sounding instrument with such a rich tone, until they hear Adam Hurt. At age 25, he has already won many major competitions and state banjo championships. Besides being highly in demand as a performer, he is a gifted and respected teacher who conducts banjo workshops throughout the U.S.
“Adam really approaches the banjo as a full-spectrum instrument,” Marcy Marxer told me (Marxer is one of the top female flatpickers in the music business). “He has a beautiful use of melody and harmony with embellishments, and he’s a very thoughtful banjo player,” she said.
“I see talented people all the time,” said Marxer, “but every once in a while, someone is just over the top in terms of talent and what they choose to do with their talent, intellect and intuition — and they come out with something that is just so remarkable and beautiful that it’s amazing; it leaves me almost speechless. Adam Hurt is such a talent,” she said.
“For years,” continued Marxer, “the whole thrust of old-time banjo was to play it just like somebody else did. That was the definition of great; it still is, of course, in traditional music. If you can go back and you’re well versed in the classics and the great players, that’s a wonderful thing. What Adam did, was he went back and studied all that stuff and then he took it to a whole new level,” she said.
So, come to the concert and hear Adam Hurt coaxing exquisite tones out of his banjos. The program features the archaic modal sounds of West Virginia to the rambunctious, driving Round Peak music of Northwestern North Carolina, to the complex and technical tunes of Eastern Kentucky. Sprinkled throughout this traditional 5-string banjo concert will be a few of Hurt’s renditions of early American mountain music, on his fiddle.
Advance tickets for $12 are available online at elationarts.org and at the Higher Grounds Coffee Company. Tickets at the door are $15. Young people 18 and under will be admitted free of charge.
Please help us continue the tradition of sharing a dessert at the concert intermission social.
Pagosa Lakes Clubhouse is located at 230 Port Ave. in the Vista subdivision of Pagosa Lakes. Take U.S. 160 to Vista Boulevard; turn north on Vista, then left on Port. The clubhouse is at the end of Port in the PLPOA complex.
Elation Center for the Arts is a nonprofit organization that provides cultural arts programs to the community of Pagosa Springs. For more information, call 731-3117.