A whirlwind would be the best way to describe the trip I took in July 2011. I was in a mad dash to get to Royalton, Minnesota and my very first "Halfway Jam". On the books that night was the solo act of Stephen Pearcy (Pearcy is also in a band called "Ratt") and as the sound checks were being completed we arrived. During the show a friendship was born and a new chapter in this blog began. Why do you care you may ask, well...
I met Troy Johnson, bass player for Stephen Pearcy's solo act at Halfway Jam in 2011 and he had invited us to see his solo band, Banjo Loco. The market that Banjo Loco plays in is in the Council Bluffs, Iowa / Omaha, Nebraska area so the chances to see the band seemed slim. Looking back I am confused why I thought that way. One WEEK before we saw Pearcy at Halfway Jam, we came back from vacation in Omaha and then in 2012 we spent a couple of days in Council Bluffs, Iowa where we saw the band "Slaughter" as well as a night in Omaha checking out their music scene (which is AMAZING) so another trip was inevitable.
It was inevitable. We made the trek to Omaha and the White House Bar and Grill to see Banjo Loco on September 7th, 2013 (our 17th wedding anniversary), it was a great and welcome idea. When we got to the "White House" Banjo Loco was already performing and I have to tell you it was far from what I expected. Troy is an extraordinary talent and he had described to me the nature of the band but his description does NOT do them justice.
There is a band that I enjoy listening to its name is Iron Horse and what they do is perform classic songs by bands like Metallica, Guns n' Roses. even Pink Floyd but they put an interesting twist, they perform them in a "bluegrass" state of mind. This will be the last time I mention Iron Horse in any article again as well as probably listen to them again. Don't get me wrong, they're a great band but Banjo Loco blows them away.
Utilizing bluegrass almost like a whirling dervish whilst putting classic rock, country, metal, punk and whatever the hell genre you would put Frank Zappa in, Banjo Loco makes it all look easy. Add into that mix original material, humor and some really interesting intros and banjos, making them one great band. What I saw that evening can only be described as brilliant. Troy (Johnson) and Matt Manning are one of the most dynamic duos around music today. Their performance was rife with new fans, old fanatics, women dancing and a never ending semblance of people having fun.
Bluegrass music has always been a secret love of mine (that and the cartoon "Dangermouse") but the intermixing that Banjo Loco does really is amazing. As I sat there that evening listening to a two-piece banjo act I tried to extract what was exactly the thing that made them that good and through the use of osmosis (okay just "thought") I realized that it merely has to do with their talent. Since I am writing this a little after the fact I pulled up good ol' YouTube beginning with the Banjo Loco version of "Wipeout" (by the Surfaris) and their talent is as as obvious as the nose on your face. Check out their original song, "Stanky Shoes" and the Flogging Molly classic "Drunken Lullabies".
In a world where bad cover bands seemingly cover the spectrum of entertainment in local establishments bands like Banjo Loco are refreshing. Look under no circumstances am I calling Banjo Loco a cover band, their music is too smart. Johnson and Manning are exceptional at their trade, and they have to be seen live. I assure you if you see these gentlemen live you will go away with your toes still tapping and a song in your heart. If I were you I would find one of their shows, book your flight to Omaha (hey I drove to Omaha five and a half hours to see them and it was beyond worth it) and enjoy!
To describe the band best is to understand their mantra: 100% Banjo 100% Loco