Untangling Dylan: Music and Conversation with Sean Wilentz, Robert George, and Friends

October 21, 2018
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Sean Wilentz, George Henry Davis 1886 Professor of American History, Princeton University and Robert P. GeorgeMcCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, Princeton University


Featuring Susan Brison, Visiting Professor in Philosophy, Princeton University; Eunice and Julian Cohen Professor for the Study of Ethics and Human Values, Dartmouth College; Bronwen McShea, 2018-2019 Associate Research Scholar in the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, Princeton University; Dan Miner, M.D., Guitarist, Exeter, NHRichard D. Smith, Bluegrass Musician, Rocky Hill, NJ, and Lauren Weiner, Associate Editor, Law and Liberty; 


Special Guest: Legendary Banjo Virtuoso Tony Trischka

Sean Wilentz is a friend and enthusiast of Bob Dylan. He is also George Henry Davis 1886 Professor of American History at Princeton University, studying U.S. social and political history. He is the author of numerous books on American history and politics, including The Rise of American Democracy (2006), which won the Bancroft Prize and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and The Politicians and the Egalitarians (2017), chosen as Best History Book of the Year by Kirkus and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and No Property in Man: Slavery and Antislavery at the Nation’s Founding (2018). Professor Wilentz is also the author of The Rose and the Briar (2004, Greil Marcus coeditor), a collection of historical essays and artistic creations inspired by American ballads, and Bob Dylan in America (2011), a consideration of Dylan's place in American cultural history. The historian-in-residence for Bob Dylan’s official website, Professor Wilentz’s writings on American music have earned him two Grammy nominations and two Deems-Taylor-ASCAP awards, two of which were for his liner notes to Bootleg SeriesVol. 6: Bob Dylan, Live 1964: The Concert at Philharmonic Hall.

Robby George hails from West Virginia, where little boys are issued 5-string banjos at birth. Like all banjo players who were trained in the tradition of Appalachian classical music (also known as “bluegrass”), his principal influence was Earl Scruggs. Aficionados also detect in his playing traces of the styles of Don Reno, Ralph Stanley, and Bill Keith. Although a traditionalist, he has been known to sneak a bit of Bela Fleck-style playing into his performances. His guitar playing is in the “thumbpicking” style of Merle Travis, Chet Atkins, and Jerry Reed. In high school, he played with the bluegrass and folk music ensemble known as the “Fresh Air and Simplicity Band.” At Swarthmore College, he led the bluegrass and country band “Robby George and Friends.” In recent years, he has performed country blues and bluegrass with “Blue Heart” and all sorts of different styles of music with his pal Professor Michael Smith of Princeton’s philosophy department. He is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program at Princeton University.

Susan Brison is Eunice and Julian Cohen Professor for the Study of Ethics and Human Values at Dartmouth College and is a Visiting Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University in 2018-19. She has been a Mellon Fellow in the Program in Law, Philosophy, and Social Theory at New York University and an NEH-funded member of the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. She is the author of numerous articles in social/political/legal philosophy and of Aftermath: Violence and the Remaking of a Self. She’s been most influenced, musically, by Pete Seeger and Sarah Vaughan and enjoys combining jazz standards with Appalachian folk songs. Lately, she’s taken to singing in the middle of some of her philosophy lectures and, so far, she’s gotten away with it.

Bronwen McShea is a historian and lover of musical traditions. She grew up in a family where everyone sings, and what they sing is Irish and American folk music. Dr. McShea the 2018-19 James Madison Program Associate Research Scholar and has taught at the University of Nebraska Omaha, Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry, and Columbia University, where she was an ACLS New Faculty Fellow. She is the author of Apostles of Empire: The Jesuits and New France (University of Nebraska Press, forthcoming 2019) and is currently writing a biography of Cardinal Richelieu’s niece and heiress, Marie de Vignerot, Duchesse d’Aiguillon, who founded and oversaw the first missions of French Augustinian hospital nuns in Canada, Vincentians in North Africa and Madagascar, and clergy of the Missions Étrangères de Paris in Southeast Asia and the Levant.

Daniel Miner, M.D. is a radiologist practicing in Exeter, New Hampshire and plays guitar in various ensembles and a variety of styles, including folk, jazz, rock, and bluegrass. He has been involved in many performances and recording projects over the years. He and Robby George played together as students at Swarthmore College.

Richard D. Smith was introduced to bluegrass during the 1960s Folk Revival. In addition to performing the music, he's actively chronicled it as a long-time staff writer for Bluegrass Unlimited magazine and author of the award-winning biography Can't You Hear Me Callin': The Life of Bill Monroe, Father of Bluegrass. He lives in nearby Rocky Hill, N.J.

Lauren Weiner, Associate Editor of Law and Liberty, has been playing the guitar since the age of eight. As a high-schooler in suburban Chicago, she took guitar lessons from the great mandolinist Jethro Burns, who showed her how to use a flat pick. 

Tony Trischka is considered the consummate banjo artist and perhaps the most influential banjo player in the Roots music world. For more than 45 years, his stylings have inspired bluegrass and acoustic musicians with the many voices he has brought to the instrument. Trischka made his recording debut with the band Country Cooking in 1971. Since then, he’s recorded numerous solo albums, collaborated with artists like Peter Rowan and Stacy Phillips, and produced Steve Martin’s Grammy-nominated album Rare Bird Alert. His 2004 album Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular also received a Grammy nomination and multiple IBMA awards. He has continued to push boundaries as one of the world’s top banjo players, lending his expertise as music director for the documentary Give Me the Banjo. In 2012, Tony was awarded the United States Artists Friends Fellow in recognition of the excellence of his work. On Tony’s latest album Great Big World (Rounder Records - released February, 2014) his instrumental expertise and boundless imagination are as sharp as ever. With contributions from his band Territory, Steve Martin, Michael Daves, Noam Pikelny, Ramblin’ Jack Eliot, and many other special guests, the 13-track set finds Trischka embracing all manner of possibilities, while keeping one foot firmly planted in the traditional bluegrass roots that first inspired him to make music.


Untangling Dylan: Music and Conversation with Sean Wilentz, Robert George, and Friends - Part 1

Untangling Dylan: Music and Conversation with Sean Wilentz, Robert George, and Friends - Part 2


Maeder Auditorium, Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment

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