Pete scouted the recipient of the 2016 Brian Friesen Award. From the Deering Banjo website: “Sixteen-year-old Ashe County High School student Trajan Wellington was presented with the 2016 Brian Friesen Award at the MerleFest Jam Camp on Wednesday, April 27. ‘It’s just a great honor. I don’t even feel like I deserve it, there’s a thousand other people that could’ve got it before me,’ Wellington said. ‘I’m just blessed they decided to choose me, I can’t even describe it in words.’ Greg, Janet and Jamie Deering, flew to Wilkesboro from California early Wednesday morning to personally deliver the Brian Friesen Award Deluxe banjo to Wellington. ‘He’s grown into being a very fine picker, and he was in a situation where he couldn’t afford a good instrument, and he’s very deserving of one,’ Greg Deering said about Wellington. ‘That’s the foundation of what the Brian Friesen Award has always been: Helping a young man or a young woman who is showing great promise and needs something special to happen.’ Tray became the second musician of color to receive the Brian Friesen Award, following Michael Morrison in 1998. He has become a respected professional musician, now playing Bluegrass, Jazz, Blues and much more. In 2019 Tray won the IBMA Momentum Instrumentalist of the Year award.”
From left, Trajan Wellington, 16, of Jefferson, stands with his new banjo after receiving the Brian Friesen Award at YMCA Camp Harrison on Wednesday, April 27, while Deering Banjo Company founders Greg Deering and Janet Deering and bluegrass musician Pete Wernick look on.
Ashe Post & Times
By James Howell
WILKESBORO — Sixteen-year-old Ashe County High School student Trajan Wellington was presented with the 2016 Brian Friesen Award at the MerleFest Jam Camp on Wednesday, April 27, by the Deering Banjo Company.
“It’s just a great honor. I don’t even feel like I deserve it, there’s a thousand other people that could’ve got it before me,” Wellington said. “I’m just blessed they decided to choose me, I can’t even describe it in words.”
One of the most prestigious awards for a young banjo player, the Brian Friesen Award gifts a high-end banjo to a deserving young player who is otherwise unable to afford a professional-level banjo, officials said.
The banjos, which are donated by Deering Banjo Company, bear an armrest engraved with “Brian Friesen Award,” along with the date the banjo was presented.
Wellington received just the 10th Brian Friesen banjo donated by Deering in the 21 years since the award’s inception.
Potential recipients of the award are nominated by members of the music community who identify talented young players with limited resources for acquiring a high-level banjo.
Wellington was nominated by Pete “Dr. Banjo” Wernick, who operates Pete Wernick’s Bluegrass Camp at MerleFest, after hearing how smoothly Wellington plays banjo.
According to Wellington, he began playing banjo about three years ago, and is a member of a local youth bluegrass band called Cane Mill Road.
“I love it, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It’s my greatest passion,” Wellington said about playing banjo.
Wellington played his new banjo on the Cabin Stage at MerleFest on Thursday, April 28.
The presentation of the 2016 Brian Friesen Award was originally scheduled just before Wellington’s performance at MerleFest, but Wernick suggested the presentation be changed to the day before his show, giving Wellington time to practice with his new banjo before performing live.
According to Wernick, Greg and Janet Deering, founders of the Deering Banjo Company, flew to Wilkesboro from California early Wednesday morning, April 27, to personally deliver the Brian Friesen banjo to Wellington.
“He’s grown into being a very fine picker, and he was in a situation where he couldn’t afford a good instrument, and he’s very deserving of one,” Greg Deering said about Wellington. “That’s the foundation of what the Brian Friesen Award has always been: Helping a young man or a young woman who is showing great promise and needs something special to happen.”
The Brian Friesen Award is a memorial to Orin Friesen’s son, Brian, who loved banjo music in his young life. However, Friesen’s life ended tragically in 1994 at age 7 due to a brain aneurysm.
Since then, the award has been used to promote and spread banjo music to young pickers from around the world.
In 2013, a teenage girl in Russia, performing on a borrowed instrument with a youth bluegrass band, was presented a Brian Friesen Banjo by the U.S. ambassador in Moscow. At age 5, Ryan Holiday was the youngest person to receive the award and the youngest performer ever to play on the Grand Ole Opry stage.
“This marks the second time that Deering Banjo has selected MerleFest to be the setting for the award presentation,” said Ted Hagaman, director of MerleFest. “We are proud of that, because we strive to honor Doc Watson’s wishes that MerleFest always be a family friendly event.
“We do a lot of outreach and education with youth of this region to keep the awareness and interest alive for the traditional roots music of the Appalachian region. So, it is exciting to know that a young banjo player from right here will receive this year’s award.”
The 2016 MerleFest gathering took place from April 28-May 1.
MerleFest, considered one of the premier music festivals in the country, is an annual homecoming of musicians and music fans held on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro.
MerleFest was founded in 1988 in memory of the son of the late American music legend Doc Watson, renowned guitarist Eddy Merle Watson.
MerleFest is a celebration of “traditional plus” music, a unique mix of music based on the traditional, roots-oriented sounds of the Appalachian region, including bluegrass and old-time music, and expanded to include Americana, country, blues, rock and many other styles.
The festival hosts a diverse mix of artists on its 13 stages during the course of the four-day event. The annual event has become the primary fundraiser for the WCC Endowment Corporation, funding scholarships, capital projects and other educational needs.
Greg and Janet Deering started the Deering Banjo Company in 1975 as a family business.
Deering Banjo Company offers a full range of American made banjos, including Deering, Vega, Tenbrook and Goodtime banjos, all hand built by Greg and Janet Deering and their team of 48 banjo specialists.
Deering focuses on making only banjos, so that its staff’s 231 years of combined banjo building expertise is directed toward making the highest quality banjos in all price ranges and providing the best banjos in the world, officials said.
In its 40-year history, Deering Banjo Company has made more than 100,000 banjos, each handcrafted with special attention to every detail.