Local musician wins prestigious banjo competition
Charleston, W.Va. – A local musician won statewide acclaim during the Vandalia Music Festival in Charleston last month. Jay Lockman, of Green Bank, took first place in the banjo competition for ages 60 and older.
Lockman, a research scientist at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, says the older musicians aren’t necessarily the best, anymore.
“Well, certainly, when I was a younger guy, I was envious of the skill of the older guys,” he said. “I’m not so sure that’s true anymore. There’s some really fantastic younger musicians coming up.”
The scientist describes the Vandalia Festival and competition.
“It’s held at the State Capitol every year and it’s a great festival,” he said. “The Capitol opens up and the grounds are full of people making music and dancing. They have people there selling food and drink and all sorts of handmade crafts from all over the state. And it’s limited entirely to folks from West Virginia. You can’t compete unless you’re a West Virginia citizen.”
“They had a stage set up there and there were people sitting on the grass in front of the stage under the trees. And then, somewhere in the back, I guess there were some judges. They were there – I didn’t know who they were or didn’t even really see them. So, it was mostly just like giving a little performance. You got up there and you could play – had to play -two tunes, two banjo tunes and that was all there was to it.”
“I played two banjo tunes that I’ve known a long time and that I have played a lot. One is called The Twin Sisters and it’s kind of a slow, kind of a haunting tune. The other one is good old Soldier’s Joy, that rip-roaring dance number.”
Lockman says he lived with a banjo maker, who left banjos lying around the house.
“Well, I’ve been playing banjo close to 40 years,” he said. “I got started when I was, actually, sharing a house with a banjo maker. He would leave some instruments lying around and I would pick up on them in the evening. At that time, I was playing guitar, but I always loved the sound of the banjo. So, when the time came and I was able to do it – and I actually think it was 40 years ago this summer – I bought my first banjo.”
The future Vandalia winner started performing at square dances.
“I was probably playing in front of an audience for square dances within a year of picking up the banjo,” he said. “But there would be a big crowd and there would be a big pick-up band and so, kind of eased into performance that way. Two or three years later, several of us got together and made a band and then we started playing for dances regularly, and for weddings and funerals and whatever the occasion made it require old time music.”
Lockman describes the founding of popular bluegrass/old-time group Juanita Fireball and the Continental Drifters, with whom he performs.
“Well, I first met some of Juanita Fireball – Mike Burns specifically – when I was living over in Virginia, which was before Mike got married, when he was still a wild, single man,” he said. “So, I played music with him occasionally down in Lexington. I was living outside of Charlottesville, so we played there. Then, when I moved up here, I found out he and Mary Sue had moved here and they really hadn’t been playing much music. I’d get them over to the house and try to get them to play. Maybe once a year, they’d play some music. But it wasn’t until a few years ago – and we’d play some benefits for the radio station and Mike would assemble a gang for that – but, it wasn’t until a few years ago that Mike decided he wanted to play more regularly and he assembled Juanita Fireball.”
Congratulations to Jay Lockman for bringing the prestigious Vandalia Award home to Pocahontas County. Juanita Fireball and the Continental Drifters are scheduled to perform during Pioneer Days on July 5 from 7:30 to 10 p.m. at the City National Bank stage in Marlinton.