Try not to smile at banjo concert

Try not to smile at banjo concert
Members of the Ragtime Banjo Band. Top row, from left: Jon Litty, Mona Lisa Lininti, Mary Yellich, Mata Morrison, Hank Boss, John Spinelli Second row, from left: Lee Chapman, John Leone, Joan Lisneck, George Yellich, Bill Bloom, Glenn Blackway, First row, from left: Darryl Wheathers, Barbara McLlhaney Courtesy photo

CARLSBAD — A chance trip to San Francisco’s Red Garter nightclub in 1969 ignited a passion in George Yellich for the four-string banjo. 

The Ragtime Banjo Band, founded by Yellich, will offer a performance at 2 p.m. Oct. 13 at the Ruby G. Schulman Auditorium, Carlsbad City Library complex, 1775 Dove Lane. In celebration of National Arts Month, the concert is free.

Audience members will enjoy timeless songs from 1900 to 1940 including “When the Saints Come Marching In”; “You are My Sunshine”; “Ain’t She Sweet”; “Yes, Sir! That’s My Baby”; “Five Foot Two” and “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.”

Most Americans are familiar with the five-string banjo, played by picking strings with a small steel pick that has become associated with folk and bluegrass music and Steve Martin.

The Ragtime Banjo Band uses a four-string banjo that is strummed with a pick.

George Maverick was so taken with the four-stringed banjo when he heard Yellich at a Dixieland Jazz Festival in San Diego several years ago that he’s been on a mission to preserve it by booking the band at local libraries.

His goal is to introduce children to the musical genre, hopefully spawning a new generation of banjo players.

“The four-string banjo is strictly Americana and is dying because more people aren’t introducing it to young people,” Maverick said. “This area (San Diego) is very sterile in this kind of music, which is why I’m trying to promote it.”

Maverick’s efforts led to a gig at the Vista Library, which he said was well received. He had no trouble convincing Colleen Finnegan, cultural arts coordinator for the city of Carlsbad, to book the Oct. 13 concert.

“You cannot listen to a banjo without smiling,” she said. “The band is having a good time playing, and they want you to have a good time, too. They even hand out sheet music so you can sing along.”

After his fateful visit to the Red Garter in 1969, Yellich bought a banjo and began lessons.

In 1982 he joined the San Fernando Valley Banjo Band and in 1986 became the leader. When he built a second home in Oceanside, he started the Ragtime Banjo Band and began performing at local venues including pizza parlors, retirement homes, libraries, the San Diego County Fair and the annual San Diego Jazz Festival. Today he divides his time as both the director of the Ragtime Banjo Band and the San Fernando Valley Banjo Band.

While performing at Skoby’s Bar & Grill in the San Fernando Valley in 1999 he had a second date with destiny that was centered around the banjo.

“Every Wednesday this young lady sat down with her girlfriend,” he recalled. “One night she gave me a note on a napkin which read, ‘I love your music and I’d love to learn to play the banjo. If you find one, please call me.’

“It so happened that she was a good looker and I found her a banjo the next day,” Yellich said, smiling. They married in 2004 and Mary Yellich has played alongside George in both bands ever since.

Other free events at the Carlsbad Library during National Arts Month include:

— Exhibition: Full Deck: A Short History of Skate Art, Oct. 7 through Dec. 30, William D. Cannon Arts Gallery, Carlsbad City Library complex.

— Teen Open Studios, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 20, Carlsbad City Library complex. There will be performances by teen bands Emergency Shut Off and The Otters. Also included are demonstrations by pro skaters Bones Wheels and grip tape artist Moüse. Other events include Games in Gear game truck and DJ spins by Caliber Entertainment as well as art projects and food vendors.

— The Vanstrum/Bak Duo: Gems for Piano and Violin, 2 p.m. Oct. 28, Ruby G. Schulman Auditorium, Carlsbad City Library complex. Anesthesiologists Roy Bak and Glenn Vanstrum, who earned music degrees before going to medical school, will offer a recital performance that include sonatas and madrigals spanning baroque, classical, romantic and contemporary musical eras, with Handel, Schubert, Dvorak and Martinu compositions.

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  1. Judifer Yellich says:

    Nice article about my dad and his band, but my dad started playing banjo in the late 1950′s/early 60′s and had a band “The Sometimers” all through the 1960′s. My ex-husband and I took him and my mother, Jean Yellich, to the Red Garter in the early 70′s, long after he had a Dixieland Band.

  2. Judifer Yellich says:

    In addition to the above, George Yellich, my dad, and my mother built their retirement home in Oceanside in 1972, not after 1982, and lived there many years together until 2001, when they seperated.

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