Featured artist – Tony Furtado

Richard Holland writes:
Back in the early days of my exposure to Bluegrass I borrowed a tent and went to The IronBridge festival and there I came across a band – Sugarbeat …….. when the banjo player wore his cap backwards you knew something special was going to happen! My first introduction to Tony Furtado. – Sugarbeat was pushing the boundaries then – with a great ‘musical drive’ and a number of songs written by the band. Notable tracks for me from their recordings were ‘Drive South’, ‘Only for a Little While’ and ‘By the Time it Gets Dark’ – and then the outrageous ‘Fry The Trout’. These tracks can be found on the album ‘Sugarbeat’ recorded in 1993 . Tony’s playing, and the band left a lasting impression creating both a drive and a groove that was new to me. Sugarbeat also introduced me to `Matt Flinner (mandolin), Sally Truitt (bass) and Ben Demerath (guitar)

Tony was born in Pleasanton, California, and got interested in music and the Banjo at an early age. He went to College at California State, Hayward as a Fine Arts Major, and whilst there he won the Grand National Banjo Championship in Kansas. He was to win the Winfield competition twice in 1987 and later in 1991. Tony’s debut album was released in 1989 (Swamped / Rounder records) — and he toured with Laurie Lewis and The Grant Street String Band – including Tom Rozum (mandolin), Scott Nygaard (guitar) and Tammy Fassaert (bass). Tony got to play with a number of the greats of Bluegrass including Tim O’Brien , Jerry Douglas and Alison Krauss among others. The Alison Krauss track ‘I Will’ has Tony playing the Banjo introduction – the track can also be found on Tony’s album Within Reach.

Tony has recorded 16 Albums for various labels, but his latest recordings – ‘The Bell’ and Cider House Sessions are out on his own label and he describes “The Bell” as his most personal of his career. A project that he retained complete artistic control.

As a Banjo player his roots are set in Scruggs, but were quickly influenced by bands like the Eagles and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Watching the development of Bela Fleck helped Tony realise the potential of his playing and expand his own ideas. His technique encompasses Scruggs, Melodic and Single String playing to make him a complete master of the instrument.


Eventually Tony was drawn into playing Slide Guitar and that now plays a big part in his one man concerts, and his various musical collaborations. Writing songs and tunes came from his interest in literature and poetry – and there are many examples in both his recordings and live shows.

From Tony about his other life as a sculptor – “ I’m a musician and sculptor based in Portland, Oregon. For most of my life I’ve been balancing my passions between making folk music and creating ceramic sculpture. When I’m not on tour playing music in theaters and folk clubs around the world, I can be found in my sculpture studio with my hands in wet clay making things I’ve been seeing or dreaming about while on the road.

The number one inspiration for my art is the natural world and finding expressive and engaging ways to portray what I see and feel. Whether it’s an accurate biological rendering or a stylised and surreal statement, my process almost always begins with me imagining a creature, person, or structure (sometimes all three at once) somehow differently. I try to capture the duality of what is fierce and fragile in the form – the tension between survival and surrender, something we all endure as part of this wildly changing planet.”

‘Bill the Otter’

Tony’s sculptures can be viewed at his website https://tonyfurtado.com/sculpture-gallery A few items can be purchased online – https://www.etsy.com/shop/tonyfurtado

Married to Portland Singer / Songwriter Stephanie Schneiderman Tony is a real family man, and never out of contact with his son Liam in spite of the amount of travelling involved in his career. Stephanie is also a professional musician – so you can imagine, there is some careful juggling goes on to ensure all the diary dates work out.

We have been lucky in the UK to have Tony visit on a number of occasions – the last visit involved gigs with Ron Block – for me, two of my favourite Banjo players…..a real treat! Tony has also worked on the Sorefingers Staff so will be a familiar name to a large number of British Fans. Tony is also happy to answer any questions we might like to ask! Questions should be sent to me at r.l.holland@btinternet.com

News from the BBMA

Exciting News!
We have a new Editor for the magazine. Chris Lord has kindly volunteered to take over the job, and we are all delighted to have him on board.

Chris is the Banjo player in the Vanguards. You can see from the description of the band, that the magazine will be in good hands with its new editor!

Out and about
Sore Fingers Summer School‘s main event was held at Easter. Sore Fingers  remains the premier teaching event for the bluegrass community. We understand that it was a great event and that the standard of our younger players remains as high as ever.

A few days later, and the Crossover Festival was the next event. This is a gem of a festival  in a lovely setting – well worth a visit if you have not been! Again the British presence was outstanding with Midnight Skyracer giving the old favourites  Ron Block and Tony Furtado  a run for their money! Crossover also provided us with some quirkiness with a highly entertaining duo called The Peas a unique chance to see Breaking Grass from the USA – their only UK gig. A really nice mix of Old Time and Bluegrass and beyond and now fast becoming a festival not to miss.

Now to Orwell – sadly the last festival for Chris, Trish and Ben Hockley. The team has provided us with years of top Bluegrass – it will be sadly missed and fondly remembered! A huge vote of thanks from our Bluegrass family to the organising team – and best wishes for a speedy recovery to Trish.
The BBMA was approached to see if we could take it on but the committee felt that for various reasons it would not be feasible.  However, the BBMA would be happy to help and support anyone interested in taking on this project but time is short so if you are interested, get in touch soon.

Committee Stuff
Your committee has also been busy, and as has been previously reported, both funds and membership are all headed in the right direction. We have around 25% of our members joined through direct debit – this works really well for us in terms of membership renewal – something to be considered when you are joining or renewing membership. The webmaster Geoff has been doing overtime transferring hosting to our new domain, britishbluegrass.org and in addition to that you will have noticed a new front page to the site which now features blog posts from me and others! I would encourage you to get in touch (by using the contact button above or) by email to secretary@britishbluegrass.org – especially if you have stuff that needs to be considered by the committee. Your Chair has also been beavering away with tour support – helping to bring in exciting musicians from the USA and Canada (have a look at our Tours page – the link also appears in the menu bar above). The results of this work generates a healthy income for the association – and we are in the process of a brain storming exercise to see how we can use these funds to benefit our community. Recently a number of students have been funded for a workshop course run at Moniaive in Scotland. I hope that we will eventually have a page on the website to describe in detail our current schemes to assist members, but until we have that sorted, I will remind you again on whats on offer!

  • Sponsorship for students attending Bluegrass Courses – this one is currently under review, and we hope to have the new conditions posted on our web site soon.
  • We loan money to Bands who want to record an album.
  • We will provide start up grants for new venues.
  • We will subsidise Bands to play at Festivals who don’t normally have any Bluegrass.
  • Funding for anything Bluegrass … you can apply with the details and your committee will give it their full attention. Remember, if you don’t ask you don’t get!
  • Our current Festival Discount scheme for members will run as usual for the next years festivals.

The Jan Jerrold Award
This year the award was given to Rick Townend – as Rick was unable to be at the festival, it was collected on his behalf by Jill Sands.

Rick Started playing Bluegrass in the Echo Mountain Band – initially a group of pupils at the Sevenoaks School. In 1964 the band went on to win both Vocal and Instrumental group at the Cambridge Folk Festival. Echo Mountain went on to play for a number of years cul
minating with a final performance in 1980 (along with the odd reunion gig). The Band was closely involved with Bill Clifton (USA) who was living at that time in the UK. – they would sometimes accompany him on his personal performances. Rick’s brother Andy was a top class Mandolinist and a big influence in the British scene. Andy was sadly to die in July 1998 – a major loss to our Bluegrass community.
Rick organised the Wadhurst Bluegrass Days – an event that was to run annually for a number of years. Rick is most generous with his time and knowledge and continues to organise educational events/ festivals/ promotions – and to this day he still publishes one of the most comprehensive listings for his geographical area. A true servant of our Bluegrass community, and a deserving recipient of the Jan Jerrold Award.

This year the BBMA AGM was held at the Orwell festival, and the minutes of the meeting are published here.

The Secretary’s Slot

Welcome to the Secretary’s Slot – what I hope will become a regular feature in the magazine, and hopefully our web site. My aim will be to try and keep you in touch with the latest news – and what your committee is planning. Please bear in mind the quality of my journalism is suspect, and I’m inclined to ramble (so I’ve been told!). So … lots of stuff going on, some of it only available on our web site I hope that most of it will be of interest to you – our members.

Our finances have never been better! Much of this is due to the hard work of your Chair with his development of tour support. Our membership is also looking really good, your membership secretary has helped boost our numbers to around the 400 mark – we have at least 28 band memberships …. a reflection on the number of us who also play and sing!

Sadly the proposed Summit on British Bluegrass has had to be put on hold – hopefully a temporary situation. We are also looking for help in terms of magazine production – our Chair is doing his best – producing an excellent magazine, but also has to contend with the pressure of several other jobs at the same time! On the good news front we now have a sub editor (Chris Couragen) who is based in the USA.

Long term news is that we hope to up date the web site, to include some of our revised policies. The BBMA does offer a lot of opportunities – which we need to list as we publish the new conditions. So to give you an idea of what we are looking at, all of the following are available to our members.

  • Sponsorship for students attending Bluegrass Courses – this one is currently under review, and we hope to have the new conditions posted on our web site soon.
  • We loan money to Bands who want to record an album.
  • We will provide start up grants for new venues.
  • We will subsidise Bands to play at Festivals who don’t normally have any Bluegrass.
  • Funding for anything Bluegrass … you can apply with the details and your committee will give it their full attention. Remember, if you don’t ask you don’t get!
  • Our current Festival Discount scheme for members will run as usual for the next years festivals.

In an effort to tell more people about us and what we do, the next AGM will also be open to non members. If you are a non member, but would like to raise an issue, then please use the contact button at the top of this post and let us know your views – the committee will be pleased to listen to what you have to say. Should there be votes taken at the meeting, then only members will be eligible to vote – please bring your membership card with you. The BBMA needs to reflect the needs of the Bluegrass community – so please come if you can, and help us to make that happen.

So – also landed on my desk is a list of touring bands and musicians from the USA. Many of these are here with BBMA work permits, but not all! I can’t remember a time when there have been so many all at once! Several of us on your committee are also involved in promoting these bands at our local venues, and festivals. So in an effort to keep you informed …. I list below the gigs that have landed on my desk! The exact tour dates will be posted on the BBMA site. Please do confirm the gigs with the venues before you set off to travel – we do our best to be accurate, but I have been known to make mistakes!

Tour Dates
There is now a new section for Tour Dates