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Q&A: Meet the artist ... Roger Banister

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Submitted photo / The Banister Family Bluegrass Band members are, from left, Dennis Marcum, Roger Banister, Jan Banister and Denise Kocur.
Submitted photo / The Banister Family Bluegrass Band members are, from left, Dennis Marcum, Roger Banister, Jan Banister and Denise Kocur.

When an elementary school-age Roger Banister saw high-profile country and bluegrass performers such as Loretta Lynn, Jimmy Dickens and Archie Campbell perform in nearby Bean Blossom in the late 1960s, the Columbus native let the rhythm crawl up his leg.

“That was a great chance to see the people we now call the old stars,” Banister said.

Since those days, the 61-year-old has lived a musical life perhaps more full than he could have imagined, including 20 years as a full-time musician in Chicago. He now plays mandolin and fiddle with the Banister Family Bluegrass Band and also with Cottonpatch, serving up musical helpings of soft, folk rock.

Banister will perform with Cottonpatch at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 25 at Columbus’ Harlequin Theatre in the FairOaks Mall, 2380 25th St.

He will play with the bluegrass quartet at the Empty Bowls fundraiser meal for local food banks at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 1 at Columbus’ Central Middle School, 725 Seventh St.

And the Banisters also will play at 7 p.m. March 1 at YES Cinema, Fourth and Jackson streets, Columbus. More about the Banisters can be found at

More about Cottonpatch can be found on Facebook.

What was the first song you ever learned to play?

“Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” not normally a beginner’s song, on the five-string banjo at 12 or 13 years old. I was taught by banjo/mandolin/fiddle and guitar player Roger Smith, who played with Bill Monroe in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It was like getting a college education in bluegrass and in Bill Monroe.

Was the banjo a tool for you to meet girls as many guitarists have done?

Just the opposite (laughter). Had I only known. But I was too young to know. It was a repellent.

What will Empty Bowls be like for you in front of several hundred people?

I’ve always gone just as an attendee and spectator. But it’ll be fun to go there as a performer.

The bluegrass group has been performing in some form for more than 20 years. How has it changed?

As we’ve gotten older, we’ve been able to highlight other influences beyond bluegrass more. Some people know we’ve performed at recent “Hoosier Beatles” and “Hoosier Crosby, Stills and Nash” shows. And now we’ve incorporated some of those songs into our bluegrass. That includes songs such as Neil Young’s “Long May You Run” and “Down By the River” and Ringo Starr’s “Act Naturally.”

That’s part of our growing process. Part of it is we’re not so concerned about fitting into strictly bluegrass festivals and venues.

You want to have outside musicians play with your groups more, right?

I think people enjoy that. I think they enjoy our getting out of our old comfort zone. It’s just a lot of fun to collaborate.

The show at the Harlequin will be loose enough with other musicians to almost be like a jam session. I think that’s the bluegrass background in us. Bluegrass and jamming go hand in hand.

How does the family aspect of the Banisters work?

My sister and I always have gotten along well, especially after we both started playing music many years ago. And she and Jan and I and sometimes may have small disagreements over how songs should go, or how the harmony structure should be.

That comes up in any art or musical endeavor. But we all realize that music is a team sport in which you must put aside the ego for the sake of the end result.

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