How did a Jewish kid from New Jersey end up playing old-time and bluegrass music?

HaZaK programming resumed face-to-face at Northern Hills Synagogue Wednesday, May 11th when the Laurelview Ramblers performed an assortment of traditional Americana music dating back to the Civil War, through the “golden” string band era of the 1920s, to contemporary songs. The program began with a lunch in the social hall. “It was wonderful to gather with HaZaK participants face-to-face with such a fun musical program,” said  Sonia Milrod, co-chair. HaZaK will take another hiatus for the summer and resume programming in the fall.

The Laurelview Ramblers (Jeff Gushin, Jeff Custis and Mike Boerschig) came together three years ago to share their interest in playing traditional music with each other and for whoever else wanted to listen and enjoy. Between songs, Jeff Gushin shared interesting information about the involvement and impact of Jewish musicians on traditional American music over the past years. 

Jeff Gushin developed an interest in traditional music in the 1960s, listening to old-time, bluegrass and folk music on NY metro-area college radio stations.  A classically-trained violinist, he took up the guitar while in high school during the era’s “folk scare.”  Later, while attending grad school in Louisville, Gushin became a fiddler and mandolinist in several area bands. During the 80s and 90s, he performed in concerts, at festivals and on radio and television as a member of the Grammy-nominated Buzzard Rock String Band. He currently performs with Jeff Custis as part of the old-time string band, The Corncobs.

Mike Boerschig was drawn to traditional forms of music at a young age. He is an active member of the Queen City Balladeers, an organization dedicated to promoting the traditions of roots music and folk performance in Cincinnati. He has also performed as a solo artist at the Balladeers’ Leo Coffeehouse and as part of the old-time string band, Barefoot in the Briar Patch. 

Jeff Custis became interested in old-time and bluegrass music after listening to Flatt and Scruggs’s “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” on the soundtrack of Bonnie and Clyde.  He is an accomplished banjo player in both fingerpicking and clawhammer styles. Custis has played with several area bands over the years, including Sweet Corn, for Cincinnati contra dances.

HaZaK, which stands for Hokma (wisdom), Zikna (maturity), and Kadima (forward), provides monthly programs for people aged 55 and over at Northern Hills Synagogue, located at 5714 Fields Ertel Road (between I-71 and Snider Road), beginning at noon with a luncheon followed by a program. For more information, contact Northern Hills Synagogue.

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