When Mark Johnson isn’t working as the Levy County Director of Emergency Management he’s plucking his banjo. He has had a love of the instrument since he was a teenager. In recent months he has found himself in the spotlight as a guest on “The Late Show” with David Letterman. 2012 was a good year for Johnson as he also won $50,000 as recipient of the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass, which is named after the famed actor and comedian. One of his latest CDs was also nominated as one of the top 5 instrumental albums of the year by IBMA. Donna Green-Townsend has this profile of Johnson who developed the blend of bluegrass and clawhammer banjo playing into a new sound–“clawgrass.”
On March 25th of 2008, Mark Johnson and Donna Green-Townsend had the opportunity to sit backstage with Doc Watson and folk icon Norman Blake at the Suwannee Springfest near Live Oak. It was one of those rare opportunities to swap stories and share some tunes. When the special hour began you can hear Peter Rowan and company in the distance performing on the main stage. Meanwhile backstage Donna began chatting with Johnson as he played Ashokan Farewell and demonstrated his style of picking called clawgrass, a combination of bluegrass and clawhammer styles.
Ashokan Farewell was used throughout the popular PBS Series, “The Civil War.” Before long folk icon Norman Blake jumped into the Civil War discussion and shared an acapella version of an old song, “Faded Coat of Blue.” When Doc heard Mark’s banjo, he asked if he could play it. In the three recorded segments below you’ll hear the spontaneous conversation and music from that afternoon that can only be described as “magical.”
In Part 1 (running time 4:35) Donna talks backstage with Clawgrass player Mark Johnson:
In Part 2 (running time 5:16) Donna and Mark begin an interesting music dialogue with folk icon Norman Blake and share an acapella version of “Faded Coat of Blue.”
In Part 3 (running time 32:24) Doc Watson hears Mark Johnson’s banjo and asks if he could hold it and then begins sharing his inside knowledge of some of his favorite banjo tunes, banjo styles and personal stories):