Sixteen-year-old Trajan Wellington was the recipient of this year’s Brian Friesen Award at MerleFest for his banjo-playing skills. Staff writer Connie Jin spoke with Wellington about his love for banjo.
The Daily Tar Heel: Why did you start playing banjo?
Trajan Wellington: Originally, before I started playing banjo, I played electric guitar in a fingerpicking style. I was playing that for about probably a year. Then I joined the Mountain Music Club at my middle school at the time to start learning acoustic guitar, and I heard the banjo and I was like, ‘Hey, I really like that sound.’
DTH: So then would you say you stick to a certain genre of music then, or sort of do multiple ones?
TW: In most cases, I end up playing bluegrass because that’s where the big demand for banjo is right now, but I also like playing jazz and experimenting with other types of music like classical and more modern pop music.
DTH: Have you always been into music?
TW: I was good at sports, but I never got into it — it never was my passion. Ever since I was little, when I was around my grandpa, I’d always hear these old country music things with his electric guitar.
DTH: What did winning the Brian Friesen Award at MerleFest mean to you?
TW: I was honored to have won such a great award, and me and my family are so grateful that they decided to choose me for it.
DTH: And I understand you also received a banjo for this?
TW: They made it around what kind of wood I would want and what kind of specs I’d want on the banjo, so I’m honored that they took that much time and effort to be able to put the banjo to the way I would want it.
DTH: What are your plans for the future?
TW: If I can, I would like to work professionally with music, but I’ll still hit up college whether I do it professionally or not. Job-wise, I’d like to do some kind of music teaching or music business or something like that if touring doesn’t work out the way I hope it will.
DTH:Were there any misconceptions about banjo playing that you’ve come to realize?
TW: Yeah, a lot of people just say banjo’s a sort of backwoods, hillbilly, redneck kind of music, and that’s not the case at all. I’m the same in that I thought this before I started playing. The world just kind of stereotypes the banjo to the way they’ve seen it on TV, trying to just go off of that.