We spoke with Eli Hoehn of Captain Gravitone & the String Theory Orchestra ahead of the group’s show at The Cedar Cultural Center on January 5 about a super hero for the new millennia, the lasting influence of vaudeville, and the beauty of the banjo. Read the full interview below and get tickets for the show here.
What is the inspiration for creating The Banjo Hour?
The Banjo Hour comes from a love of music, banjos, and late night television talk shows. I wanted to create a show where absurdity and art could be together.
Just who is Captain Gravitone?
Captain Gravitone, super-hero of the new millennia, is a thought experiment on heroism, a man living in a world where the consequences of actions often have unexpected results, and the distinction between good and evil is not always easy to discern. The idea of Captain Gravitone is in its nascent stages. Mostly, he’s a regular guy with qualities we generally prize in others, humor, thoughtfulness, kindness. Gravitone grew up in a circus freak show among many curious characters, where he developed a boundless imagination, a powerful sense of empathy, and a love for sounds only banjos can make. Although he dabbles in physics and inter-dimensional space-time travel, empathy is his super-power. The important thing for me is that the back-story provides a framework for musical creativity, through character development and story plot.
How do you think the vaudeville format is staying relevant in this current day and age?
The vaudeville format is really just a mix of specialty acts. The remnants of vaudeville are still with us in late night television talk shows, and shows like Prairie Home Companion. The vaudeville format allows room for the serious and the absurd.
What can audience members expect from your special guests in the show?
Our music guest is Pat Donohue, one of the greatest finger-style guitarists in this, or any other universe. Frankly, you can expect Pat, a veteran of The Prairie Home Companion, to blow your mind. Our host, Michael Callahan, is a talented comedian, magician and fake mind-reader. Expect to laugh and be amazed by incredible feats of magic. Our announcer, hall-of-fame musician Ron Arsenault, has an amazing voice, a voice that shines like a beacon of light in the darkest places. Expect to hear the joyful sounds only banjos can make, from a cadre of great banjoists that includes banjo maker, Tom Nechville and KBEM radio host, Phil Nusbaum.
What do you love most about the banjo?
I love everything about the banjo, its shape, its feel, but most of all, the little plucky sounds it casts out into the world.
What’s inspiring you lately?
I’ve been rediscovering some old Frank Zappa tunes from his Hot Rats album, trying to imagine what a banjo version might sound like. I’ve also been listening a lot to Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn. It seems like I can never get to the end of a Fleck song before I hear some amazing tidbit of sound that makes me drop what I’m doing, and pull out my banjo.