Tomatoes Tried To Kill Me But Banjos Saved My Life

Tomatoes Tried To Kill Me But Banjos Saved My Life
Adelaide Fringe – The Garage International @ Scots. Presented by Quivering Dendrites. 16 February – 3 March 2024

Keith Alessi walks onto the stage with his instrument and quips all the old jokes about banjo players, to get them out of the way. He darkens only to mention the movie with the men in the canoe, then delivers such positivity about how his life turned to bring him to where he is today.

Years ago, he was a successful company executive, but he wasn’t happy: Alessi still felt something was missing. In his closet were banjos he’d bought when he was younger, but never had the time and patience to learn how to play. Knowing he had to change his life, but not sure how, he quit his CEO job – but not even two weeks afterwards, his health threatened his life, and Alessi turned to music and its healing powers.

Alessi’s storytelling is first-rate: he’s humble, self-deprecating, and quietly funny. He alternates his personal story with a history of the instrument and plays music in different styles through the banjo’s history. The songs include alternative methods to dealing with troublesome possums; and his stories tell of his happiest times being when he feels the music – whether that’s playing in a jam at a Virginia country store, or amongst sick children in a hospital. His call to action to the audience is to go find what makes them happy, then go and do that.

This is wonderful, old-fashioned Fringe: there’s no coarse language, no edgy humour is necessary, and everyone keeps their clothes on – and it still has the best title of any show in Adelaide this year. It’s an honest, endearing story of making positive choices, and enjoying the rewards of doing what you love. All the money raised from his show is going straight back to local performers and artists – which is enough reason to support this show. Yet you should go to experience the warmth of Alessi and his story, which will last way beyond the hour you spend listening to him talk and play.

Afterwards, I think we all went home to see what’s in our closets.

Review by Mark Wickett

Photographers: top Erika Conway, and lower, Lauren Hamm

To check out or round-up of Adelaide Fringe reviews, click here.

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