Mac Benford

        2013 Guest of Honor








Mac Benford has been a leading figure in the preservation and performance of traditional Appalachian stringband music for more than forty years. He began playing clawhammer banjo in 1960, as a student at Williams College. His interest in the authentic mountain styles of the 5- string led him to the greatest living masters of the time - players like Wade Ward, Kyle Creed, Tom Ashley, and Roscoe Holcomb who would provide life-long inspiration and models in theformation of his own style.

Moving to California’s Bay Area in 1967, Mac began his professional performing career with the much-beloved Dr. Humbead’s New Tranquility Stringband and Medicine Show specializing in the re-creation of the old-time music captured on 78 rpm records from the 1920s, most especially that of Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers. The band played festivals, clubs, coffeehouses, up and down the West Coast, until 1970.

Mac then began playing with Walt Koken and Bob Potts as the Fat City Stringband. Honing their skills on the street corners of San Francisco and old-time fiddler’s conventions in Virginia and North Carolina, the three finally settled in New York State’s Finger Lakes area, and became the nucleus of the now-legendary Highwoods Stringband. Their innovative sound, combining authentic renditions of the tunes and songs from bygone days with the driving power of the competition-oriented string music of the '70s, knocked the old-time world on its ear and provided a brand new model for the stringband revival. It was written that “more than any other band of
their time, they were responsible for drawing a legion of new,young fans into old-time music by the force of their musicianship and the fact that they were having such a good time at it.”

Between 1972 and 1979, the Highwoods played most of the major American traditional music festivals - the Smithsonian, the National, Philadelphia, Fox Hollow, Brandywine, etc. In 1974, they were part of a six-week State Department tour through Latin America and in 1976, they toured Western Europe. They joined the New Lost City Ramblers for a performance at Carnegie Hall in 1978. A recording of this concert was later nominated for a Grammy.

When Highwoods’ disbanded, Mac formed the Backwoods Band, featuring virtuoso singing and playing while adding elements of blues, bluegrass, Cajun, and western swing to their old- time sound. The mid-'80s saw Mac reduce his extensive touring to devote more time to his new family and their Mecklenburg, NY, farmstead.

In 1990, Mac returned to recording and festivals with the highly acclaimed Woodshed Allstars, which the NY Post called “the finest stringband in America”. They performed tightly crafted arrangements of old-time country music and Marie Burns originals at concerts and festivals across North America for seven years and recorded a cassette on Marimac and a CD for Rounder.

Recently, Mac often performed with John Hoffmann and Paula Bradley in The Haywire Gang. This powerful, prize-winning trio delighted concert and festival audiences with their wide range of instrumentals and vocals. He also played with UpSouth, a rocking dance band,which featured older Southern fiddle tunes with piano back-up. These days, Mac is primarily appearing as a solo performer, entertaining audiences across the country with the skill and charm developed in over forty years of performances. As a member of the last generation to have had personal contact with the great traditional artists of the past, Mac is carrying on the tradition in his own inimitable style.

Mac has long been known for his solid mastery of a variety of traditional banjo styles. His highly evolved clawhammer style, showcased on his recent releases, Kentucky Favorites and Half Past Four, have made him a much sought-after instructor at banjo camps across the country. He has been a staff member at Ashoken, Augusta Heritage, Fiddle Tunes, Suwannee Banjo Camp, American Banjo Camp, Midwest Banjo Camp, and Mars Hill Old Time Week.

Mac Benford

Selected Discography:

Available from Mac at


John Hoffmann and Mac Benford,
"It's About Time"

Tight duets and hot band numbers with

UpSouth and The Haywire Gang


Mac Benford, "Half Past Four"


Ed Haley tunes for clawhammer banjo


The Highwoods Stringband, "Feed Your Babies Onions"

Rounder Select
Compilation from 3 1970's LPs.


The Highwoods Stringband, “Live!”

'70s concert and festival performances


The Woodshed AllStars, "Willow"

Rounder Select - 0371


Fat City Stringband, "The Original"


Mac, Bob Potts, and Walt Koken.
Where it all began! 



Additional information