Precisely strumming and picking songs completely engulfed in traditional Americana tones, old-time banjo artist Paul Silveria has created a sound that resonates with familiarity and uniqueness simultaneously.
Over his 15 years mastering the banjo and calling square-dances, Silveria has built a performance style that combines historic tales and folk-standards with audience interaction and collective dances.
Silveria, who also performers under the alias “Professor Banjo,” sees the appeal of the old-time genre as an enigma which contains both a unique element as well as deep-rooted recognizable tones.
“It’s lost its popularity over the past 50 years, but there’s still this kind of cultural connection to it,” explains Silveria. “There’s things that will seem really familiar and things that will seem really novel, and I think that’s really the appeal — listening to something that has both of those qualities.”
Silveria will be bringing his traditional sound to Revelstoke on Friday, August 3 for Summer Street Fest 2018.
Silveria, who now resides in Vancouver, first picked up the banjo after reading a book on legendary folk artist and social activist Pete Seeger, lent to him by a friend in his hometown of Portland, Oregon.
While the book mostly focused on Seeger’s activism, Silveria says he was drawn to the artists signature instrument after completing the biography.
“The banjo seemed like kind of a goofy instrument, kind of neat. And I got really interested in it,” says Silveria. “I went to a pawn shop and bought a really cheap banjo.”
“Once I had the banjo and started messing around with it, I saw people in my community who were playing banjo.”
With a large scene of old-time music occurring in Portland at the time, Silveria says he was drawn in to become a member of the movement after witnessing similar musicians perform within the community.
“I got swept up in this social community and had a really good time,” says Silveria. “Quickly I learned how to play banjo and call square dances, and I just kind of got embedded in it and I’ve been interested in it ever since.”
Silveria says square-dance calling came as a natural extension of the music, locking him into the community after training under community legend Bill Martin.
According to Silveria, a good square dance caller not only instructs, but adds to the performance.
“Good square dance callers are clear in their teaching, they’re clear in their calling, they’re enthusiastic, so they almost become another instrument in the band pushing the energy and bringing people into it,” says Silveria. “Being a good square dance caller is just about observing what’s happening and being a clear and enthusiastic master of ceremonies and helping to pull it all together.”
Beyond the music, Silveria aims to educate on the history of the style he performs.
A self professed nerd on the topic, Silveria puts emphasis on the lesser known influences of North American traditional music, shedding light on African influence that has been largely ignored in the past.
“For many regions and communities for many many decades, this was music. It wasn’t a style music, it was actually just the music that got played. And it has a rich history of where the music came from,” explains Silveria. “In my way, I try to acknowledge the history and share the parts that are interesting. You look for the opportunities to set the record straight and share the history and the influences of the music.”
On his first trip to Revelstoke Aug.3, Silveria says he looks forward to sharing a strong interaction with his audience, performing in a way where he says his greatest strengths shine.
“I love the environments where people are close, I can talk to people, I can share things, so I think that I have a comfortable rapport with the audience and I think that that’s my probably my biggest strength,” says Silveria. “They can expect a range of songs, some traditional, so funny, some that will seem familiar. And they should expect the chance to involve themselves with the music – clap along, dance along and enjoy themselves.”
Silveria will be performing Friday, August 3 at Grizzly Plaza from 6:30-9:30 p.m.