Every so often, just when you think the well is dry and the tradition is dead, you are gratefully reminded that there is still water down there and that the tradition was only sleeping. Morgan O’Kane from Charlottesville, Virginia is one of those reminders. A virtuoso banjo player, shouter and activist now based in New York City, Morgan recalls two other transplanted legendary southern artists; Reverend Gary Davis and Aunt Molly Jackson. Like the reverend, Morgan honed his skills making a living as a busking street artist. Like Aunt Molly, he has kept his connection to his Appalachian home and its issues, taking part in the campaign to ban mountaintop removal mining, which destroys the land and the people who live on it.
While Morgan O’kane clearly knows his way around the old tunes, he is more interested in creating his own. That’s how the tradition survives – new songs being created on old foundations. This ain’t no revival; this is a contemporary artist who knows where he comes from. He tours with an amalgam of virtuosic musicians including; New York City’s Dobro genius, Zeke Healy – New Orleans based, Leyla McCalla on Cello, and Ferd Moyse the IV on fiddle (of the Hackensaw Boys) amongst others. He is also comfortable playing solo, with a sort of one- man- band percussion set up complimenting his banjo.
He has been in New York City for seven years or so, released his first album in 2010 and is about to release his second one, Pendulum. Morgan also created the sound track for the documentary film, Low Coal, which addresses the coal mining industry in Appalachia. The film, like the music Morgan makes honours the traditions of the Appalachian region but addresses the current struggles faced.