The Tony Trischka Band
at Long's Park, Lancaster, Pa.
(5 August 2001)

For some folks, a banjo may conjure images of lazy evenings on a ramshackle porch, lemonade in a pitcher, a lazy dog at your feet and old-time tunes lifting up to the sky.

But Tony Trischka dispelled the stereotypes Sunday evening by demonstrating licks of a different sort to an awed crowd at the Long's Park Amphitheater in Lancaster, Pa.

The mugginess of the day and the hazy threat of a cooling rain (which never arrived) may have kept attendance down, but for the 5,000 or so who came out for the free show at Long's Park, it was a night of memorable music.

Trischka, who helped virtuoso Bela Fleck learn his banjo chops, continues to prove his expertise with his trademark hybrid of bluegrass and jazz, with rock attitudes mixed in for good measure. Joined onstage by a topnotch band, Trischka combatted the humid air with a cool blend of roots styles. (He proposed enclosing the park in Plexiglas and pumping in chilled air, but park officials didn't comply.)

Wearing a black-and-blue outfit that matched perfectly the colors of his electric banjo, Trischka opened the evening with a laid-back, ambling duet for banjo and drums -- gradually picking up the other instruments along the way. Then they cranked up the energy for an extended, high-powered jam, pulling back in the final moments for a quiet stroll.

Trishka switched to an acoustic banjo (as the bass player switched from an upright to an electric) for the second jam, by which time the audience seemed thoroughly hooked.

Besides Trischka, the Tony Trischka Band is Michael Amendola on alto and soprano saxophones and flute, Rolf Sturm on electric guitar and vocals, Kermit Driscoll on upright and electric basses, and Scott Neumann on drums.

The band flowed next into the aptly named "Half Crazy with the Heat," a Trischka composition which added subtle vocals by Sturm -- the words seeming less important than the extra layer they added to the tune. Next up was "Quasi Koti," a new piece by Amendola, who swapped saxophone for flute for a Far Eastern sound. Then it was the interestingly bearded Sturm's turn to show off his songwriting skills in the blues-shuffle "Forty-Four."

To this point, the show focused primarily on the band's jazz and jazzy rock sounds. But then everyone cleared the stage while Trischka went back to his bluegrass roots for a solo medley including the theme from the "Beverly Hillbillies," "Rocky Top," "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" and "Dueling Banjos" -- the latter of which, since Trischka was alone onstage, required the audience to supply the answering riffs.

Later, Trischka again went "back to the well" for "Earl's Breakdown," a tune by bluegrass pioneer Earl Scruggs. For variety, he followed it up with a solo medley of Beatles tunes ("A Hard Day's Night," "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," "Mother Nature's Son" and "Drive My Car"). John Lennon's first instrument was the banjo, Trischka noted, and he initially tuned his guitar like a banjo. "Then Paul McCartney came along and ruined everything by teaching him how to tune it like a guitar," Trischka lamented. "There's no telling how far the Beatles would have gone otherwise."

He played the Beatles' tunes with finesse, silently mouthing the words, perhaps hoping to encourage the audience to sing along. A few people caught on.

Trischka spent much of the show playing to a small gaggle of children gathered at the foot of the stage. He and his bandmates also seemed to enjoy their own interactions as much as the performance itself.

Fans who already have everything on Trischka's extensive discography took heart when he announced a new project in the works. Tentatively titled New Deal, the Rounder release is expected out this winter, he said. The band then provided a sample, Amendola's new composition "Big Poppa Rides Again," which closed out the show.

Pulled back to the stage by the crowd's applause, the band launched into one final number, the title track from Trischka's latest album, Bend, before calling it a night.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 22 September 2001