The Old-Time Herald Volume 11, Number 5

Kate Brett and Kevin Enoch: Balancing Family, Work, and Music
By Jim Stanko
Lynda Folwick

Kate Brett is an accomplished traditional clawhammer banjo player, as demonstrated by her numerous contest wins. Kevin Enoch, also an accomplished musician on several instruments, is probably best known as a builder of extraordinary custom banjos. Kate and Kevin, the parents of two young daughters, are active in their community, play in the old-time band Hoover Uprights, and host a monthly old-time potluck brunch in the suburban Washington, DC, area.

Whenever old-time musicians get together, at some point the conversation is likely to turn to a complex issue: how do musicians find enough time to support themselves and family, deal with the pressures of the modern world, and still maintain a presence in the old-time music community?  I've always been envious of the people who have found a way to balance these parts of life, so when the opportunity arose to write an article about Kate Brett and Kevin Enoch, I was more than a little intrigued at having the opportunity to learn more about their success in combining careers, family, and old-time music. Over the last year, I took the opportunity to drop in on their old-time potluck brunch to talk with them about how they got started in old-time music, how their musical lives got entwined and, of course, how they manage to juggle all the different spheres of their lives.


Kate grew up in New Jersey in the 1960s, and she recollects that her earliest exposure to old-time music was due to her mother’s interest in the folk revival. She recalls that there were a bunch of records in the house, and that she liked listening to Pete Seeger sing and play banjo. Like many youngsters of the time, she flirted with a variety of musical instruments, including piano at home and trumpet at school. “I taught myself guitar when I was in second grade,” she recalls. “I was teaching myself how to play piano, but I was playing the treble clef with both hands. I didn't understand there was a bass clef!  That's when my mother figured she’d better get me some lessons.”

Unlike most youngsters, Kate continued to develop her interest in music. She rented different instruments over summers: oboe, saxophone, and finally a banjo. As she moved through the various instruments, she decided she would become a music teacher. “Don't know how the banjo fit in,” she says. “But I got a copy of the Pete Seeger banjo book and I was teaching myself how to play, because I figured I needed to be able to teach kids how to play. What I didn't understand about the banjo was that the bridge was movable. So, although I had a pretty good ear and could tell it was out of tune and sounded awful, I just thought the banjo was defective, and I didn't play it much. I was a shy kid and didn't think of going to the music store and asking for help.”


Kevin grew up in Ohio, in a little suburb just south of Cleveland. His dad was (and still is) a builder and a cabinetmaker, an all-around handyman who can make almost anything. He had a big shop, and whatever he needed, he could make. “I was always putzing around doing things in his shop,” says Kevin. “When I was 18, we built a dune buggy together!”

“I started working as a carpenter with my dad during summer vacations. He listened to the local country station, and I was kind of interested in country music. This was maybe in the late 1970s.” He recalls going to an arts and crafts festival in Ohio, where he saw two guys sitting on the back of a car in the parking lot, and playing old-time music on fiddle and banjo. Kevin says, “The banjo player was playing clawhammer style, and I was just blown away, and I had to figure out how to learn it. . .”

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