At age 10, Rebekah Weiler was approached with two choices for her birthday: a banjo or an American Girl doll. Weiler chose the banjo.
To this day, she said she still doesn’t know why she chose the banjo, but it’s turned into a good thing, and since age 15, she’s studied the stringed instrument with passion.
“I had such a desire to play and there was something special about the music,” said, regarding the instrument and her love of old-time music.
A 21-year-old junior at MTSU majoring in history, Weiler was born and reared in Murfreesboro, and introduced to traditional music at a young age.
Although she was brought up around music and musicians, Weiler said no one in her immediate family plays. Still, something about the banjo and its sound caught her attention along the way.
In summer 2000 she applied for the Macon Doubler Fellowship, an award established by the family of local legend Uncle Dave Macon that provides six months’ worth of lessons. Weiler earned the fellowship, allowing her to study with her first banjo teacher, MTSU’s Amy Macy, a recording industry professor. Thus, after five years of keeping the banjo in the corner of her room, Weiler said she came to a simple but compelling realization: “I needed to take advantage of all the amazing opportunities that were literally at my fingertips,” she remarked.
A soft-spoken woman with sparkling eyes, Weiler, in March 2002, found the confidence to enter her first Old-Time Banjo competition in Clarksville. While jamming with two other teenage girls in the cafeteria of the school where the contest took place, Weiler recalls, “The guys in the Blue Creek Ramblers spotted me there first.”
From there, the band’s members tracked her the entire summer from festival to festival, Rebekah said, until the act’s bass player got her number and phoned her parents. At the time, she was away studying Appalachian music and culture in North Carolina and West Virginia after winning two national youth music scholarships.
In August, however, Weiler met the Blue Creek Ramblers or, BCR, at a music gathering in Jackson, Tenn. In September, Delmer Holland, leader of the band and fiddle player, invited her to join the band full time. In October, the band went into studio and recorded a CD titled Keeping the Tradition Alive, and the rest is history.
Weiler said she has spent time with older musicians since then, such as Charlie Acuff, Roan Mountain Hilltoppers, and the late Grandpa and Ramona Jones, among others. Along the way, she learned a multitude of songs each time she attended the weeklong music festivals, where she often walked around with her video camera in hand so she could tape everything.
“I learned songs that way and it makes it easier instead of sitting down and learning them,” Weiler explained.
More recently, in 2006, Weiler had the opportunity to record the CD Ain’t Dead Yet. Unlike 2002’s Keeping the Tradition Alive, on which the players recorded 21 tracks in one day, an exhaustive feat, Weiler called the shots and ran the show in the studio on this, their second CD.
“I had a better knowledge of what I was doing and maturity,” she said.
Today, Weiler’s developed into a more confident performer, she said, and does most of the band’s emcee work, telling jokes and managing the onstage performance.
“It’s really hard work, and anyone who thinks being a musician is a walk in the park doesn’t really understand what it all encompasses,” she said, smiling.
For more information, visit rebekahweiler.com or myspace.com/rebekahweilerbanjo.
At Uncle Dave Macon Days hometown girl Rebekah Weiler will competing in the old-time banjo category and the old-time band category with the Blue Creek Ramblers Saturday, July 14