Fergus
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Fergus
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I perform on the air as a program host/DJ and live-sound engineer with KGNU Community Radio in Boulder and Denver, CO and on stage also as a singer, banjo player and Master of Ceremonies. My strong, deep voice and clarity of diction make me an ideal voice talent.

Fergus & Banjo — Songs and Stories

I appear both as a solo singer with banjo and a capella, and also in groups – The Iron Nipple Bluegrass Sheiks, a 5- to 8-person ensemble, and The Old Log Cabin Boys, a banjo-dobro duet (with a real Old Log Cabin). I play banjo in both the 3-finger picking, or "Scruggs" style and also the old-time style known as frailing, clawhammer, or drop-thumb. The "Sheiks" combine bluegrass, jug band, folk blues and country in a laid-back, roots-oriented show with some modern flourishes. Instrumentation includes acoustic and electric guitars, dobro, pedal-steel guitar, banjo, mandolin, acoustic or electric bass, harmonica, kazoo, washboard and, of course, jug. My first performance instrument was jug, and soon after I added harmonica, banjo and kazoo, and I have sung lead and harmony with the Sheiks and our predecessor groups – the Whole Earth Dirt Band and The Lost Attic Jug Stompers – since 1964.

The Sheiks are based in Boulder, CO. We have performed frequently at events in the mountains and environs of Boulder County, and annually for 18 years in Haigler, Nebraska for the Haigler Bluegrass Breakdown and formerly for the Bill McVey Memorial Bluegrass Festival. In our career, the band has performed as far away from home as Segundo, CO in the southern part of the state, and Jackson Hole, WY, before it became Dick Cheney West. We were fixtures leading off the annual Beer and Steer festival of Homebrewing for the first 10 years of its existence, and a few American Homebrewers Association annual parties as well. We have been enthusiastically received at large corporate parties and professional conventions, as well as more intimate events such as clubs, wedding receptions, kids' camps and private parties. We have the capability of making music in the absence of electricity, and we have sometimes been the only band at a festival who could perform while the generator was broken. The Magic of Acoustic Music!

As a solo act, I have performed in festivals, clubs, schools, churches, weddings, funerals, retirement homes and hospitals, lodge picnics and mountain camp cookouts, even a few pubs in Ireland. In addition to jug band and bluegrass music, I have also sung in two operas with the Boulder Civic Opera – both with Colorado history themes, and in one I even played the banjo while singing an aria and leading the chorus. About twenty years ago, I sang my aria and some miner songs at the dedication of a marker memorializing a massacre of striking coal miners near Boulder. A couple of years ago, I sang in a remote mountain lodge in Norway to a group of shamanic Czech women who were on a spiritual quest. They loved it!

Singing is a completely involving activity. I use all my body, head to toe, to produce sound, and I make a lot of it. The ringing banjo can carry a long way, or cut through the din of guitars and mandolins. My voice has elbowed its way to the listeners in the back row of a mountain amphitheater, against a stiff wind and over the sound of a 5-piece band, without amplification. I can do soft and intimate, too, but this "loud" characteristic makes it possible for me to entertain an audience of 100 or more people (and some dogs and birds, or farm animals for that matter) indoors or outdoors, in remote locations or where electricity is unavailable, without the need for a PA system. This type of acoustic setting, with the traditional sounds of the banjo and old-time country songs, can help to create a special, memorable experience of the mountains and the West for an audience.

The lack of technical accoutrements removes the last barrier between the performer (me!) and the audience, and the intimacy that can result is something that just can't be achieved in a more elaborate, high-production-values show. Of course, as an Audio Practitioner, I own some sound reinforcement equipment, for those times when amplification is required, but I often encourage people to leave the amps in the car and let's see what the real, un-doctored sound is like. Too many musicians seem to feel that they have to set up all their gear regardless of the situation (maybe they got it for Christmas or something) and too many live performances are blighted by poorly functioning sound systems just because people are afraid to step away from the microphone, even in a small room or for a modest-sized audience. Try the real Wi-Fi… no distortion, no feedback, no boominess, no wires to trip over, no speakers to fall off their stands.

With my whole body working to make the sound, my mind is also fully engaged to bring the words and notes of the song into their proper power. A good song, well-sung, is much more than merely a way to pass the time. It can, and should, have a deep and lasting impact on the listener, as it has already had on me.

There is a story behind every song. Placing the song in its historical and social context helps folk-song material to reach, to teach, and to inspire people whose background may be quite different from the world that produced the music I perform. Often my shows will flow from themes, such as mining history, family, love of the mountains, war and peace, etc.

I enjoyed the hell out of banging pots, pans, teakettles, etc. with you all. I specially got a kick out of finding some one else who knew "yellow dog." As I think I said most of these blues-jazz types wouldn't know either if it was poured in their ear. Oh, well, anyway it was fun. — Addison B., old jazz drummer/newspaperman

My influences have been many and varied. Certainly the great figures of the banjo must be mentioned – Earl Scruggs, Pete Seeger, Uncle Dave Macon, Charlie Poole, Stringbean and Grandpa Jones, Bill Keith and Don Reno, Ralph Stanley. Other master musicians have influenced me as well: Paul Robeson, Django Reinhardt, Bill Monroe, Jimmy Rogers, Merle Haggard, Bob Dylan, the great classical composers from Bach to Sibelius, jazz figures like Scott Joplin and Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke, contemporary folks like Jim Kweskin and Geoff and Maria Muldaur. I guess I could go on forever. My radio connection has exposed me to wonderful talents from other continents, like King Sunny Ade from Nigeria and Ravi Shankar and so many others from South Asia, Mercedes Sosa and Ernesto Nazareth of South America. And truly, every lonesome Appalachian man, woman, or child who ever picked up a banjo or sang a song has had a trickle-down effect on the music that comes out of me whenever I open my mouth.