When I first heard about Mark Whitaker I honestly said to myself “uh oh, a songwriting banjo player…this should be interesting”. No joke. We were sharing a songwriter’s in the round gig at Tommy Doyles. Jay Basinger (of North of Nashville), Mark and myself were slotted to swap songs and play upstairs, which was then moved to the basement where no one knew we were playing, during the presidential election announcements, on a Tuesday. Needless to say the crowd was less than stellar in size, but a recently engaged couple was there and we serenaded them all night. From the second Mark launched into his first song I immediately regretted my “songwriting banjoist” thoughts. Ever since I heard the first note that Mark has played up until this very moment, I am in awe of his playing, his musicianship, his songwriting, and most importantly how humble he is. Seriously, with how talented Mark is he could be a total egotistical dick and it would be completely justified, but he isn’t. He is one of the most sincere and modest people I have ever met and continuously amazes me with his music and generosity with his talents.
I think that’s why it was most important for me to ask Mark to be on this project. Aside from the fact that we are pals, we play together occasionally, and share a lot of the same friends, he is probably the most giving and generous musician that I know. If he is available and you need him for a gig, he is always open to play, no matter how crappy the gig. He just loves to play. He also has a keen ability to pick up on nuances while playing and recognizes when you have been putting in work. Whether or not he actually notices it (he may just be really, really kind), I think every time we play he makes a point to reinforce when I do something good on the old mandolin with a “man, you are getting better everytime we play”. Little things like that mean a lot…he is just a good dude.
Another thing I learned (aside from that whole ‘banjo songwriters can actually be friggin incredible’ lesson) that fateful night in the dingy basement of Tommy’s was the name “Noam Weinstein”. Before we played we were all talking about folks that we really like locally, people we play with often, typically musician small talk. Mark boasted that Noam was one of his favorites and one of the best songwriters he had ever heard. I was intrigued by the name, mainly because I’ve only heard of two of folks named Noam…one which also plays banjo…and I was taken aback by the songs. When Mark said he wanted to cover his song “Yesterday’s Weather” for the project I was really excited. His take on this song, with the edition of Eva Walsh on fiddle, is a real genuine and heartfelt honoring of his friend and one of his favorites.