Special vintage Gibson banjo, musician in concert July 11
SOUTH CARTHAGE - Skye Theatre will be the unlikely setting for an unusual reunion of musician; banjo; and the descendants of John E Fowler, a local Bangor area musician who played in bands in the 1930s and '40s. The incredible story starts in 2010 at the American Folk Festival in Bangor and comes full circle on Wednesday, July 11 at Skye Theatre.
Skye director Phill McIntyre and Celtic Colours director Joella Foulds hand selected a group of five emerging musicians for a tour entitled “A Taste of Celtic Colours” to promote Cape Breton's Celtic Colours International Festival at the 2010 American Folk Festival.
Pam Mills, granddaughter of John Fowler, was in the audience at the opening set of the groups Friday night performance in which Darren McMullen was featured with a tenor banjo lead. After the show Pam approached Darren and started to tell him the story of her grandfather John Fowler. Darren listened as she told of his love of music and, though his day job was as a mechanic, he enjoyed playing his music evenings and weekends. Many family members were musical but no one played the banjo and it had sat for decades. Museums and dealers were clambering for the instrument. She said, “He'd roll over in his grave if he knew it was just going to be looked at, never to be played”. Darren thought she was wanting him to buy the instrument and respectfully told her he was not in the market for a banjo and hoped she could find a new home for the old banjo.
“No, no! I don't want to sell it to you, I want to give it to you,” she said. Darren could not believe his ears. He was a total stranger from another country, why would anyone want to do that? She told him that John was the kind of man who would want music made, not money made. As long as he promised to play it, and respect it, she was willing to hand it over, no charge. She left with the promise for returning the following day, so he could take a look at the banjo.
The next day Darren arrived at the festival site a little early, in hopes Pam might actually return with the banjo. He thought because of the brief encounter that she might have second thoughts and if nothing else he wanted to see for himself why dealers and museums were after it. He waited around in the artists area but no Pam, finally he had to go on stage for sound check. Once on stage a sound tech came up and handed him an old banjo case and said, “Some lady came by early this morning and left this for the banjo player.” The case held a 1929 Gibson TB2 tenor banjo.
“Aside from its monetary value, I was floored by the idea that she would just freely hand over such a prized family possession to a stranger. To know that hearing me play just one set of random tunes, at a random venue far from home could touch a person in such a way, makes me think differently about every show I play,” Darren said and added, “Beyond the business and the money and the details that come along with pursuing music as a profession, there's a more important unspeakable and profound connection to people's hearts that music can create. We all forget that sometimes. My deepest appreciation to Pam and John, for the remarkable gifts of not only the banjo, but the lesson learned.”
As many family members will be hearing the old banjo live on for the first time, the setting at Skye is the perfect place to bring it all back together. Darren will be performing a special set which is the first cut on his recent CD release, Shoes for Molly. The full story is told in the liner notes with photos of John Fowler and Darren with the banjo.
Skye Theater is located 3 miles West of East Dixfield village at 2 Highland Drive off Winter Hill Rd and US RT. 2 in South Carthage. Ticket price is $15 at the door. For reservations at Skye Theatre call (207) 562-4445. More information is available at: http://www.necelticarts.com