When Washington banjo player Reed Martin first heard of Stephen Wade, star of Arena Stage's one-man revue "Banjo Dancing," he wasn't too impressed. "I thought, this guy can't even tie his own shoes! He came over to my house six or seven years ago, and he played in my living room." Martin, a plucky Montgomery County parking meter collector and mechanic, has been a banjo man for over 20 years. "I learned to play from other musicians from all over the country, and I've heard the best -- Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James, the Rev. Gary Davis, you know." Martin's banjo can be heard on seven albums, "but none of them say 'REED MARTIN, BANJO PLAYER' -- it's usually 'Reed Martin backing up 7,000 other people,' " he laughed.
Martin and Wade met up again last week at Dupont Circle's Kramerbooks and Afterwords Cafe, where Martin and guitarist Dan Blum perform traditional and mountain music on Monday and Wednesday nights, perched on a balcony overlooking the bookstore. Wade and friends "came up and we talked, and he watched me play, and then we passed my banjo back and forth, swapping tunes. He's spent a lot of time woodshedding with other musicians, and it really shows," Martin said. "He's a hell of an entertainer. I even went downstairs to listen to him for a while." Since then, the two have become banjo buddies: Wade invited Martin and his wife to see his show, and has since jammed with Martin again at Kramerbooks.