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The 13th Annual AFF Banjo Contest


The banjo is a uniquely versatile and truly American traditional instrument, and we want to celebrate the many banjo players (and especially banjo students) out there who rarely get the credit and encouragement they deserve. We hope to attract all sorts of banjo players and new fans to celebrate the talents of Alaska’s banjo virtuosos during the Anchorage Folk Festival’s 11th annual banjo contest. Time to dust off that banjo in the corner!

  • When:  Saturday January 27, 2023
    • 2 PM – Sign-in
    • 2:30 PM – Contest starts 
  • Where:  UAA PSB 166 Amphitheater (not the Wendy Williamson theatre!)
  • Fee:  None – It’s FREE!!
  • Eligibility:  Anyone can enter, any age
  • Audience: Audience members and fans are very welcome; just please respect the need to be quiet when contestants are playing – and don’t reveal any punchlines!
  • Categories:
    • Style – Contestants can enter one style category.
      • Bluegrass – three-fingered style of Earl Scruggs
      • Old-Time – clawhammer style
      • Other – for example, but not limited to: Dixieland, Irish, Fingerpicking, etc
    • Joke: Banjo jokes are as traditional as banjo music and so they get recognition as well!
  • Judging: All contestants will be judged by our panel of judges. We modeled our judging methods based on established performance criteria used in banjo contests all over the country
  • Prizes: Fun prizes will be awarded for each musical style and for the banjo joke category. All contestants receive a Certifcate of Participation.

How it works

Contestants need to be at the Amphitheater Stage, PSB 166, at 2 PM to sign up to play, and to warm up.  Contestants can enter one playing style category, which they identify:  bluegrass, clawhammer, or other.

The contest will start at 2:30 PM on the Amphitheater stage.  Order of appearance will be determined before the start of the contest, by drawing numbers.  The emcee will introduce each contestant and the song titles.

Each contestant will have up to five minutes to play and ideally should plan to perform two instrumental numbers within that five minutes total (eek, no singing, please!).  This will be on the amphitheater stage.

RULE:  Players can have one accompanist, to play basically a rhythm part, such as guitar or string bass (not another banjo, please!).  The accompanist is there for musical support, but not to play solo or duet parts or in any way overshadow the banjo contestant.

Judging Criteria

We modeled our judging methods based on established performance criteria used in banjo contests all over the country.

Contestants can enter the joke category, regardless of whether they also enter to compete in a musical category.

For the Style category:

  • Execution (40 points):  Timing, clarity, tone quality, being in tune, dynamics and finesse, degree of difficulty.  (No, we are not going to execute any banjo players, even if tempted!)
  • Arrangement (40 points):  Musical appeal of songs played, sense of melody, originality, subtlety, and taste (or what passes for taste, in banjo music).
  • Spirit (10 points):  The music should have life and feeling; not be listless or dragging.
  • Overall impression (10 points):  The general effect of the performance, including factors not otherwise mentioned above. Is the audience thrilled, or chilled?

For the Banjo Joke category:

  • Similar criteria to Style category will be applied. Additionally, all jokes must be G-rated, like the movies, with a one-minute time limit, and one-joke maximum.  
  • Jokes will be screened by a designated AFF staffer ahead of time to ensure the G-rating. 

NOTE:  All contestants should stay together until the final results are tabulated, because there might be TIES in one or more categories that need to be resolved by a play- off.   That means that those players would need to each play one more song for the judges to determine the winner.

Judges will confer to determine the winners.  During that time, ALL contestants are requested to gather together on stage…we might have them all play a simple tune!

At the conclusion, winners will be announced, prizes awarded, and Certificates of Performance provided. 

Special thanks are due to Dick Sanchis (Local Burger Man) for helping us start this contest and for donating prize money each year.  He is a true Champion of Banjo Music. Thanks also to businesses and organizations providing gift certificates (Mammoth Music, Anchorage Concert Association, The Music Man, Alaska Music and Sound), to the judges, our wonderful emcee, and other dedicated volunteers helping run this contest.

All participants are encouraged to become members of the Anchorage Folk Festival and to consider Volunteering too!


Anchorage Folk Festival