Gowanus Canal banjo toss ends early

Banj-nooooo! Gowanus Canal banjo toss ends early after instrument breaks free, floats off

Brooklyn Paper
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Photo gallery

Banj-no: Contestants faced off in the Brooklyn Folk Festival’s annual banjo toss on Sunday afternoon.
Banj-go: Steve Smithie hurls the banjo in an attempt to win the yearly contest.
Sinking: Dave Barron had one of the longest tosses of the day before the banjo was lost in Brooklyn’s nautical purgatory forever.
Floating away: The winner of the contest usually wins a new banjo, but the contest was cut short after the banjo came loose from its tether and bobbed away in the canal.
Hitting the right notes: Folk enthusiasts march down to the Gowanus canal to the tune of banjo music for the Brooklyn Folk Festival’s annual banjo toss on Sunday afternoon.

It was banj-demonium!

An annual competition to see who can hurl a banjo farthest into the Gowanus Canal came un-strung on Sunday afternoon, after neighbors called the cops, and the five-stringed instrument then hit a tree and broke free from its tether, floating off into Brooklyn’s Nautical Purgatory. The snafu brought the contest to an abrupt end, but an organizer said all the drama made it one for the books.

“It was crazy, it was a year of firsts,” said Eli Smith of the Brooklyn Folk Festival, a three-day musical extravaganza in Brooklyn Heights that culminates in the strong-arm contest.

The fest has been organizing the banjo toss for eight years, but this year nearby residents called the police after the competitors paraded from Smith and Ninth streets to its traditional arena on the Second Avenue side of the Ninth Street Bridge.

The horde of folk athletes traveled to the other side of the canal before things could heat up, and when police arrived, they okayed the new location, Smith said.

Around 60 contestants still had the opportunity to heave the icon of Americana into the canal — accompanied by a live jug band — before the instrument broke free.

Organizers still anointed winners for the men’s and women’s categories, and both champions took home brand-new banjos, unsullied by the fetid waterway.

Smith said a friend who owns a canoe is now searching the canal for the missing banjo — which has been used in the competition for the past five years — and is optimistic it will turn up.

“We still hope to recover it,” he said. “There’s not a strong current so I think it’s out there and it can maybe still be found.”

Next year, Smith says he will secure the banjo with a better knot.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Fontanah Mitchell says:
Bernie Sanders has promised to subsidize stronger banjo wires by taxing incomes at higher levels. Feel the Berns!
April 12, 2016, 7:24 am
Sean F from Bensonhurst says:
Really? People actually touch that banjo after it's been thrown into the Gowanus even once, never mind 60 times? And they say heavy metal fans are crazy?
April 12, 2016, 10:06 am
Bugs Bunny from Bklyn says:
What a bunch of maroons....
April 12, 2016, 1:36 pm
ChrisC from Park Slope says:
Banjo-toss is a great PR stunt - but they should have done it at the BEGINNING of the festival instead of the end.
April 12, 2016, 1:57 pm
jjm from c. hill says:
Wow banjo tossing? Their lives must be the shyt if all they have to wory about is who can toss a banjo the furthest. Like, screw the rest of us regular folks who have to worry about less important things like paying this high azz rent, feeding our families, etc.
April 12, 2016, 4:54 pm
Jeff from Downtown says:
Yeah, people having fun is the WORST. What a bunch of jerks, enjoying their Sundays at a community event.
April 12, 2016, 6:54 pm
Boguslaw from Greenpoint says:
Yeah, a 'banjo-toss'. Great.
Sounds like something a stoned pre-adolescent might try if he stumbled across one.
Brooklyn is cited as now having the most expensive rents in the city, yet this passes for 'culture', these people are part of the new 'thinking economy'?
Must have —— for brains.
April 12, 2016, 7:45 pm
jjm from c. hill says:
@boguslaw, thats exactly what i was indicating. People have to look at the bigger picture of priviledge. It just goes to show how good some people got it & articles like this just seems to rub it other peoples' faces. Meanwhile, the rest of us struggling folks who have to worry about next month's rent & bills dont have the precious time to go throw some banjos in the dirty gowanus.
April 13, 2016, 2:38 am
jjm from c. hill says:
@jeff, try to get sarcastic with me all you want but you know damn well if someone else got caught doing the same thing as these fools, which you describe as "fun", they might be sitting in central booking.
April 13, 2016, 2:48 am
TCAL from DITMAS says:
Haters Gonna Hate
April 13, 2016, 9:52 am
Sean F from Bensonhurst says:
I heard that the International Olympic Committee was interested in adding this event to the summer Olympics, but were unable to duplicate the Gowanus water chemistry for use in other locations. Proper viscosity is the key to a truly satisfying banjo "plop".
April 13, 2016, 10:28 am

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