Jon Eric Livens Up Iowa City with His Banjo

Jon Eric. Banjo Player.

What an interesting business card; one I had received the first night I met Jon Eric.

I had always been quite involved in the local music scene, especially in the country-folk genre, so when I heard a banjo being played on a porch on the way to my friend’s place, I was quite intrigued. I walked slowly to listen to as much as I could, when someone from the porch yelled down and asked me to come listen.

I couldn’t say no.

When I got up the steps, I was in heaven. There were three guys with guitars and one with a banjo. They handed me a beer and started jamming with each other, while the other spectators closed their eyes and moved to the beat. I left the porch with a song written about me and with ten or so new friends, one being the banjo player, Jon Eric.

I have seen Jon Eric spontaneously since then, and he is always one with the people. He will pick up the banjo if you say you want to hear him play. He will jam with anyone. He shares his music with anyone willing to listen. It is the attitude of someone who truly loves what he does. How many people can say that?


It is something that everyone owns and everyone sells. Everyone has their own price at which their time can be bought.

This is a philosophy of Iowa City banjo player Jon Eric’s.

“Money can always be replaced. Time can never be replaced.”

For someone who makes a living off of playing music, he uses his time wisely.


Jon Eric picked up the banjo at nine years old and had only nine months of formal training. He was a fast learner, to say the least. That same year, he was playing in Ryman Auditorium of the Grand Ole Opry with his family band.

Eric went to school for percussion – drums where they “taught theory, but not how to apply it.” He got a job as a painting contractor, but at twenty-one years old, he realized that he wanted to own his time, and not sell it to someone else.

Iowa City

Originally from the D.C. area, six years ago Eric decided to move to Iowa City after visiting only once.

“It was the music scene. The people here are stellar, you know, the Midwest type; they have a hearty way. And the extreme temperatures – keeps the bad people away.”

For as much as he has brought to the Midwest, he has learned from it as well. He describes the local musicians as more of a team than competition. He posts links to other artists’ shows on his websites, for example. “It’s humbling to support other people’s music. The Midwest taught me that.”

He has also brought a new kind of banjo sound to the area, a more adaptable and fresh sound. As Eric describes it, “I threw Iowa black dirt into it to make it gritty and dirty.”

Jon Eric plays at open mic night at The Mill, Iowa City



To get his name out there, Eric utilized the networking capabilities of the Internet to the extreme. He has accounts on Myspace, YouTube (he has over 180,000 hits), Facebook, and his own website, among others, to promote himself and his music.

He teaches  on Skype to about 58 studentsall over the world from seven different time zones, including Australia, Canada, Ireland, and New Zealand, all who had heard of him through his online promotions.

Being a solo artist, Eric is not lacking in offers. He has played in multiple music festivals, one most recently at the Iowa City Fairgrounds, and with countless bands and artists. “Iowa City is a hot bed of talent. I’m humbled to be a part of it.”

Despite his growing popularity, he still does not want a manager because he does not want to “lose sight of what really matters, and that is the people.”

The People

Jon Eric is a banjo player, teacher, and philanthropist. What he does is what he loves, and that is to make people happy.

I asked if he ever gets tired of playing. He quickly responded, “How could I get tired of playing?

“I play to reach the spirits of people. I do have to pay bills to survive, but in the end, things don’t matter. It is the spiritual connection with people that make the difference. If you ask, I will play for you. It’s all about giving back. I will play for you if it will make you smile. Sometimes where words fail, music speaks.”


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