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Tommy Emmanuel launches Pan-Canadian Tour · 16.05.14 by colin newell

Guitar picker Tommy Emmanuel

This week, my nephew William (an aspiring guitar player), and I (a guitar slinger since the mid-70’s) had the pleasure of seeing finger style guitar player Tommy Emmanuel – in person at the Mcpherson Playhouse in Victoria, B.C.

Arguably one of the hardest working solo acts in the business, Tommy has been touring for over 5 decades. Starting his career at age 4 in a family rich with musical heritage, Tommy was playing professionally by the age of 6 in a family band and by 10 years of age had already toured Australia.

With a Chet Atkins “Certified Guitar Player” title (and I know of no other players who have this accreditation…) and 2 Grammy nominations, Tommy’s 7 year stint of touring a minimum of 300 dates a year is truly breath taking and staggering. It is no wonder that his skill with the 6 string guitar borders on the unnatural and nearly impossible. His evening show, comprised of 2 1.5 hour sets, left everyone (particularly the musicians in the audience) staggered and, like me, elated and exhausted at the same time – witnessing the level of showmanship and raw focused talent.

As mentioned above, there is a major influence from Chet Atkins, who was clearly a leader in guitar playing technique from the 1940’s through executive production roles in the 70’s – and his influences (which are readily audible in Tommy Emmanuel’s style include Merle Travis, Django Reinhardt, George Barnes, Les Paul and Jerry Reed.) And in Tommy’s show, he displays all of these with perfection and aplomb. In fact, some of the delivery is so rapid fire that you often are not sure if Tommy is drawing on some historic influence or cooking it up on the fly and in the moment. Either way, it is guitar fireworks like you have never seen.

Being an acoustic and electric guitar player, with a (I think) modest level of accomplishment at an intermediate level, I felt like 1.5 hours of Tommy’s playing would be perfect for me — because I am there for the joy of the music and the learning. In fact, a guitar workshop (which he does frequently) would have been a better choice. Fact is, I am more of a technique technician than an actual performer – meaning I spend way more time hammering out technique than actual melodic playing. But for the fan of Tommy and his art, his show was engaging, long on humility and genuine engagement and light on the grandstanding typical of this level of artist. His sense of humor infused all but the most serious of tunes – and there were a few… and I will not spoil the surprise as this is, after all, tour date number one.

Not surprisingly, the McPherson theater was a full house – what was odd, however, was the age group of the audience – 65+. There were even 90 years young folk at the show and as many guitar players as I know, many were clearly absent. And upon additional investigation, I found that many of my guitar playing friends who worship Tommy’s skill set and live shows, discovered that the local show was not very well locally publicized. Even I kind of fell upon some tickets that my nephew had purchased months ago (that his guitar teacher had tipped him off to). And by the time I had clued in and checked the theater online ticket listings, there were only singles available. Which is not a problem for the artist, because the room was full. I guess in an ere of social media, when one wants to follow an artists tour, they need to subscribe to their feed – whether it is facebook, e-mail or twitter. Whatever works.

Anyway – for the rest of you Canadian guitar players out there that want to catch Tommy Emmanuel live, head over to the tour date page – His shows feature a lot of his original material, many of the cover tunes that he interprets oh so well, and some humor and story telling thrown in for good value. As I quipped to my nephew, “Everything I can play on the guitar, and I mean everything I know… Tommy can play in about 5 minutes at break neck speed…”

I have seen many, many YouTube videos featuring Tommy Emmanuel and his live performances are hotter than anything you can watch on a screen — if such a thing is possible.
So grab a ticket. And enjoy! And happy guitar playing!


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