‘Banjo Toss’ returns at fifth annual Brooklyn Folk Festival

Here’s your chance to throw a banjo into the Gowanus Canal!

The Brooklyn Paper
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The Gowanus Canal is polluted with heavy metals — but for one day only it’s going acoustic.

The second-ever Banjo Toss contest is capping-off this year’s Brooklyn Folk Festival, giving attendees of the weekend-long hootenanny of American roots music a chance to strum the rustic instrument before taking turns throwing one in the waterway.

The Banjo Toss, along with the festival, is the brainchild of jug band musician and Red Hook resident Eli Smith, who said the idea for the competition came out of his love-hate relationship with the instrument he’s played for 15 years.

“Sometimes I just want to throw my banjo across the room,” said Smith. “And I thought, that might be a pretty fun idea for a contest.”

To avoid destroying numerous banjos, Smith decided to have contestants pitch one instrument repeatedly into a body of water — which meant the game couldn’t go down in 2012 when the festival was held at a landlocked venue. But this year’s Gowanus-based Bell House will allow folks to launch the five-stringed javelin right into the Lavender Lake.

A rope tied to the sacrificial banjo will act as a watermark to determine who throws it the farthest, as well as a life-line to draw the instrument back on to land.

The clawhammer master added that he will provide contestants with gloves to protect them from the toxins, oil, human waste, and gonorrhea floating in the Venice of Brooklyn. The winner will receive a free banjo, which they can either learn to play or — since they’ve had enough practice already — sling into the canal.

Smith said competitors are free to try any track-and-field technique they want in the banjo toss.

“It’s really freestyle,” said Smith, who personally favors a shot put approach. “If you have an idea how to throw it, go for it.”

Of course, the fun won’t be limited to chucking long-necked music-makers into a federally-designated Superfund site.

The folk festival, which kicks off April 19, will showcase dozens of bluegrass, American folk, jazz, blues, gospel, soul, and foreign ethnic artists based in Brooklyn — plus a couple of nationally-known acts like the Cactus Blossoms and the Great Smoky Mountain Bluegrass Band.

Smith said he modeled the exhibition on the classic Newport Folk Festival, with all genres of traditional music, acoustic and electric alike, represented.

“It’s got a great feeling to it, it’s a welcoming place,” said Smith. “There’s so much great talent in Brooklyn, I was surprised no other venue or promoter has tapped into it already.”

The Fifth Annual Brooklyn Folk Festival at the Bell House [149 Seventh St. between Second and Third avenues in Gowanus, (718) 643–6510,]. Begins April 19, 6:30 pm. Banjo Toss April 21, 1 pm.

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at or by calling (718) 260-4507. Follow him at
Updated 10:09 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

diehipster from Mauling Masons says:
The pussification and homogenization of Brooklyn continues.

Why do these wannabe hillbillys come to Brooklyn - a place of hard working immigrants and generational working class families if their dream is to be a smelly banjo player or playdoh sculptor or hummus chef??? This is not the place for that kind of tryhard behavior.

While Eli, Mason and Colton are tossing banjos on their all expense paid playcations, normal non-attention seeking wonderful real Brooklyn people are struggling thanks to everything that has already been inflated thanks to the invasion.

And lastly: why do these people continue to play at the Gowanus canal??? The article says gloves will be handed out to prevent touching the toxic and gonorrhea infested water. Can you imagine going near that canal for anything? I guess the need for attention overrides all risks.

Stupid kidults.
April 2, 2013, 7:40 am
ty from pps says:
diehipster, you're really a precious specimen.
April 2, 2013, 9:09 am
Joey from Clinton Hills says:
this is a pretty lame faux ritual.
April 2, 2013, 9:45 am
JAZ from hunting redbeards says:
ty - dh is 100% right about this. It is an absolutely ridiculous attempt to seek attention and play in their little urban wannabe fantasy.

Banjos on the Gowanus - like yahhhh!!!
April 2, 2013, 10:34 am
die hipster from Banjo Feltcher Falls says:
Like Like Like - YUM!!!
April 2, 2013, 11:29 am
John from Sunset Park says:
ty from pps — I hope you win the banjo toss.
you seem like just the coolest hipster around, you totally deserve to win.. yah!
April 2, 2013, 11:41 am
ty from pps says:
I'm probably the furthest thing from a hipster (well, my ancestors don't date back to some mystical "before time" in Brooklyn, so I probably am a hipster by the tough guys posting here.)

Regardless... I think throwing a banjo into the canal is pretty dumb. But, guess what, I don't define my life according to what hipsters do.

The rest of you seem to do just that. You are *not* a hipster. That clear. If you're so awesome, wouldn't it be better to share that part? ya know, instead of creating this weird mythology about these magical people from the Midwest with endless amounts of cash. (Still wonder where all of this money is coming from if *all* so-called hipsters are funded from afar...)
April 2, 2013, 12:49 pm
A-Life from Bay Ridge says:
The FOLK tradition is an important part of American music and history, and this festival is a great event organized by dedicated local musicians who are keeping alive a meaningful part national culture.
April 2, 2013, 3:22 pm
Chicky from Gowanas says:
Maybe these geniuses can come up with a plan to clean the gowanas canal.
April 2, 2013, 4:24 pm
Pat I. from 70's Brooklyn says:
Any way we can convince them to bob for apples?
April 2, 2013, 6:04 pm
K. from ArKady says:
Do you really intend to handle an object that's been repeatedly dredged through a superfund site? Best go with the full hazmat suit, gloves seem woefully inadequate.
April 3, 2013, 1:14 am

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