Old-time music, young ears

Professor Banjo mixes something old with something young.

The professor (who also is known as square-dance caller Paul Silveria of Portland) plays old-time music for kids. He’s celebrating the release of his second CD, the color-your-own cover “Old Times, Good Times,” with a show Sunday in Olympia.

How did Silveria target his music to children? He’s a former teacher and child-care provider. But the biggest reason is just the natural fit between kids and rollicking old-time music.

“The music is really engaging, and it’s really applicable music for kids,” he said. “A lot of the songs are old songs that are kept alive mostly in the tradition of singing to kids. Tunes like ‘Shortenin’ Bread’ and ‘Oh Susanna.’

“I do other songs that are less immediately recognizable and maybe a little bit more palatable to adult ears,” he added.

The recorded songs are straight ahead traditional favorites, with a couple of originals thrown in. In concert, Silveria invites kids to dance, sing and add their ideas.

“I take some of my interactive elements from play party games, which were an old style of entertainment for kids,” Silveria said. “Some things are as simple as playing freeze dance, dancing when I’m playing and freezing when I’m not.”

He even teaches the kids to square dance.

On Sunday, Professor Banjo will share the spotlight with kids. Olympia band Fiddle-I-Ay includes 10-year-old Maggie Neatherlin and 6-year-old Ruby Neatherlin, plus their parents Emily Teachout and Erik Neatherlin and family friend Ray Leach.

“We play rousing renditions of old favorite songs and near-forgotten ballads,” Teachout said.

Teachout saw Silveria perform at the Oly Old-Time Festival. “He quickly had everyone dancing like their favorite barnyard animal,” she said. “He has a warm and welcoming personality and a repertoire of kid-friendly old-time tunes.

“He’s a masterful banjo player and interjects his straight-up old-time tunes with an amusing dose of kazoo, washboard and bike bell.”

Silveria, a Vancouver, native who lived in Olympia while attending The Evergreen State College from 1999 to 2001, also has been heard calling square dances in Olympia and beyond.

His musical interests began late, with the banjo his first instrument.

“When I was about 19 or 20, somebody gave me a book about Pete Seeger and I enjoyed it,” he said. “I thought the banjo sounded like a completely kooky, fun instrument.

“I didn’t know anything about it, but I went and bought one.”

He taught himself to play from books and by watching and listening to other musicians. “I learned a lot from the people around me,” he said.

And these days, he hopes he’s inspiring a new generation of old-time fans.

Professor Banjo

What: Professor Banjo (also known as Paul Silveria) plays and sings old-time music and adds interactive fun for kids. Also on the bill: Olympia family band Fiddle-I-Ay.

When: 6 p.m. Sunday

Where: Traditions Cafe & World Folk Art, 300 Fifth Ave. S.W., Olympia

Tickets: $5 per person or $15 per family

Information: 360-705-2819 or or