“Pickin’ and grinnin’” is a phrase often associated with banjo playing. I have to admit that my experiences with the American Banjo Museum have only left me smiling!
I had wanted to visit the Banjo Museum in OKC’s Bricktown for a while before I finally got a chance. The Museum admission is already quite cheap ($8 for adults). But it is free at their Christmastime event to those who bring a toy for the Red Andrews dinner. This meal is served to the underprivileged here in OKC on Christmas day.
That’s a win-win, if you ask me: free admission to a fun museum and a chance to help others!
The holidays tend to be crazy with everything piled up on the few weekends in December before Christmas. I convinced my friend to go with me on one such chaotic weekend, because I had wanted to go for such a long time. I have to admit that we were pretty tired on the drive there. So I was really hoping it would be worth it.
We arrived in time for the show given by the executive director of the Museum, Johnny Baier. Soon we were enjoying ourselves so much that we were actually more energized when we left!
Baier was fantastic at engaging the audience. We sang along to many Christmas favorites, while he improvised lines on the banjo and taught us more obscure verses to some of the well-known songs. He took song requests for the majority of the show.
We munched on cookies and savored the moment with the room reverberating with everyone’s voices singing along! Afterwards, Santa visited for the kids who were there. It was so much fun that we’re planning to make this event an annual tradition for us!
Go See Kermit the Frog Play the Banjo!
Afterwards, we were able to stroll around the museum. It is a small museum with two floors packed with the world’s largest collection of banjos displayed for the public. The bottom floor presents the history of the banjo and the top floor showcases a collection of exquisite instruments and the Banjo Hall of Fame. Did you know actor Steve Martin plays the banjo and is a Hall of Fame member?
But we particularly enjoyed the special Muppets exhibit. Yes, Kermit the Frog also played the banjo! The exhibit gave the history of the Muppets, plus included some multimedia experiences.
Kermit and his banjo will be here at the American Banjo Museum until August 2019, so go soon!
Free Banjo Lessons! And Jam Sessions
I was excited to learn about the monthly opportunity to come learn the banjo for free! You do have to make a reservation in advance, but they will provide the instruments and one free lesson!
My friend and I returned to the museum a month later to learn banjo with Lucas Ross. Lucas was an engaging and encouraging teacher with a great sense of humor. He has a wide knowledge of the history of the instrument, in addition to being able to teach us the basics.
We had a blast learning different strum styles and using finger picks to learn the beginning of the folk song Cripple Creek. I was amazed how much we were able to learn in one short lesson! At the end of the lesson, we were even given an instructional DVD and a coupon to the museum gift store.
If you already play the banjo (or another folksy instrument), go join in the Museum’s Celtic and Bluegrass regularly scheduled open music jams. It’s free to participate or you can come listen in on the fun for a small fee.
Festivals and Concerts at the American Banjo Museum
In addition to the previously mentioned Christmas event, the American Banjo Museum hosts all kinds of festivals and concerts through the year.
In fact, on the first Wednesday of every month, you can take your lunch and hear a banjo concert at the Museum for free! Or catch a performance with Wayne Cantwell playing American old time music on his banjo, fiddle, and mountain dulcimer.
Coming up on September 5-7, 2019 is the Museum’s big annual event: Banjo Fest. This whole weekend of concerts, parties, and jam sessions will conclude in a headliner performance with the Alison Brown Quintet, the Grascals, Buddy Wachter, and Johnny Baier. Several of these performers will be initiated into this year’s American Banjo Hall of Fame at the Fest.
The American Banjo Museum is well worth a visit, especially if you can make it to one of the performances alongside your admission! You’ll soon be grinning yourself!