Steve Martin – he’s a wild and crazy guy! No, wait a minute – or should we say “excuuuuuuuse me!” – Steve Martin he’s a serious musician and philanthropist. Just a few years ago Steve Martin finally figured out how he could get to spend more time with Bela Fleck. No, hang on that’s not…. what we actually mean is that the Ninth Steve Martin Award for excellence in banjo and Bluegrass has been awarded – and to the youngest recipient yet.
Victor Furtado is nineteen and he’s already well into his musical career, his banjo trajectory is pretty amazing. The youngest of 9 children, 7 of whom are professional musicians, Victor Furtado never had ongoing formal training in the banjo, but he was continually surrounded by classical, bluegrass, and old-time music. He was only 9 when he announced that he wanted to learn the banjo. He had access to a DVD by Lynn Morris, and quickly learned “Boil Them Cabbage Down.” Within 2 years, he had appeared on “Woodsongs” radio show, and the following year, when he was 12, he received an invitation on the Grand Ole Opry to appear with Mike Snider and his band. He is currently in his second year at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Like we said, pretty amazing. But – what you’re really wondering is can he really be such a marvel – well, he could do this two years ago at the age of seventeen…so….yeah, he’s good.
The Steve Martin Award for excellence in Banjo & Bluegrass has now honoured nine fine players past winners are Noam Pikelny, Sammy Shelor, Mark Johnson, Jens Kruger, Eddie Adcock, Danny Barnes, Rhiannon Giddens, Scott Vestal, and Kristen Scott Benson. The selection board is made up of such luminaries as J.D. Crowe, Pete Wernick, Tony Trischka, Anne Stringfield, Noam Pikelny, Alison Brown, Dr. Neil Rosenberg, Béla Fleck , and…Steve Martin. Earl Scruggs was also there at the beginning – so this is a panel that knows their banjos. The award is in the form of $50,000, from the pocket of Steve Martin himself. Martin and his wife, Anne Stringfield, dreamed up the prize after Martin noticed that some master musicians were still paying off their banjos. “I thought, ‘That’s got to change.’” The first draft of the prize’s statement of purpose was written on the back of a cocktail napkin. It’s the only prize of its kind and has an impressive monetary value. “The one way in America — or anywhere — to bring notoriety is with money,” said Martin. “It had to be ‘Wow!’ It had to really mean something to someone.”