Tilted Kilt Open Mic Competition Session 3 Winner
By Esther Sanchez
Truth be told, when I was asked to get in touch with Dan Mazer, AKA “Banjer Dan” for this article I had no idea what was in store for me. I figured we would spend 15 or 20 minutes on the phone talking about his music, the competition, his prizes and maybe some generic topics like musical influences. Little did I know that I would end up spending nearly 2 hours in fascinating conversation with one of the most interesting dudes I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. This guy doesn’t just have talent; this guy has stories. The difficult part about writing this article is the nagging feeling I get from knowing that there is no way I could give any sort of justice to his story and his lists of accomplishments and adventures are entirely to vast to communicate in less than a thousand words. That said, I will do my best and I am honored to introduce you to the one and only, Banjer Dan.
It is actually a bit of a fluke that Banjer Dan was in the competition to begin with. Mazer currently resides several hours away in Paso Robles, Ca. and happened to be visiting friends in the desert when he opened up a copy of CV Weekly and saw an advertisement for the open mic competition and decided to go for it. After winning the preliminary round he decided to make the trip back for the finals at the urging of various attendees who thought, rightfully so, that he had a good chance of taking home the grand prize which consisted of, amongst other goodies a $500 shopping spree at Guitar Center, 3 days/2 nights in Las Vegas from Crater Lake Vodka and an artist spotlight article in Coachella Valley Weekly.
After doing a bit of googling I quickly discovered that the soft-spoken, multi-instrumental performer is well-respected amongst serious bluegrass and country musicians who refer to him in terms like, “superpicker” and anyone who watches him perform can certainly understand why. His mastery of the banjo is a clear reflection of years of study, dedication and experience. Mazer: “For me, the banjo was a happy accident that kind of led me down a path that freed me from the expectations that most people have in life”
The story of how and why this New Jersey born, Washington DC raised performer decided to learn to play banjo begins as a story about brothers. In 1972, 14 year old Mazer and his 13 year old brother, Josh watched the now classic thriller, Deliverance. Like much of America, the boys became enthralled by the legendary “Dueling Banjos” scene, the soundtrack for which had become a radio hit. It was shortly thereafter that Mazer’s brother, not Mazer, asked their parents for a banjo and began to learn how to play.
Mazer: “One day my brother Josh was practicing the banjo, and a group of neighborhood kids had gathered to check it out. Among that group were girls, and a switch was tripped in my 14 year-old brain! Soon I was “borrowing” the banjo, splitting lessons, and out-practicing Josh, who eventually moved on to the guitar. Armed mainly with Earl Scruggs’ book, and a couple of records, I became a bluegrass fanatic, with a special emphasis on Scruggs-style banjo playing.”
Just thinking about the amount of dedication, determination and self-discipline it takes for a musician to reach Mazer’s skill level is impressive in my book. The hundreds of hours of boring, monotonous drilling that is required to train your brain and fingers to pick like Banjer Dan would be overwhelming to most of us. Mazer: “As a kid I hated being told what to do by anybody for any reason, but for some reason I was able to sit myself down and do this thing. I guess it was partially because I didn’t have a social life. I used to spend most of my time out in the forest exploring nature. After I became interested in the banjo I discovered there was this whole bluegrass scene out there.”
Mazer started attending bluegrass events and festivals where he met other musicians who shared his passion for the instruments and music which eventually lead to Mazer being a part of the scene he had grown to love. Mazer’s banjo has taken him all over the country and beyond. He has toured and/or recorded with respected acts such as, J.B. Beverley and the Wayward Drifters and The Jackstraws in addition to solo performances. He is currently a resident performer and artist booker at Last Stage West in Atascadero, Ca and host of “The Banjer Dan Show,” every Tuesday where he features guest musicians. His next guest scheduled to appear on his show is singer/songwriter “Pismo Spanky” on March 26th.
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