Fingerstyle at FARwest 2009–Six Approaches

I took video of several Fingerstyle Guitarists while in Irvine last November for the annual Folk Alliance Region West (FAR-West). I am presenting them together in a half-hour videoFingerstyle at FARwest 2009“.

Here’s the link to the High Resolution Video:
(large file, needs fast connection, stream or download)

Here’s the link to the Low Resolution version:
(not as good video quality, good for slower connections, plays full screen)

The video includes songs by six different performers playing their original material, including three of this year’s featured showcase performers, Walter Strauss, Shaun Cromwell and Ernest Troost.

One of the things that makes this video interesting is the juxtaposition of six experienced players, who have developed different sets of skills and created original styles within the context of fingerpicking, and of both traditional and world music. With six different guitarists, we get six different approaches, completely distinct use of right and left hand techniques, and, most importantly, the differing ‘touch’ each player has on the instrument, based on their own inner sensibilities and the clear conveyance of the values that they bring to their music. Not to get all high-fallutin’ or anything, but, in particular with this group of musicians who are based on the west coast of California, we get a glimpse of the kind of talent lurking on the fringes of mainstream music, and of the authenticity of artists within the FAR-West community.

Walter Strauss, does an energetic version of his gorgeous composition “Ishi”, displaying his advanced technique and both the influence of West African music on his style and his own original ideas, about composition and modern fingerstyle. Shaun Cromwell plays a note perfect version his sublime tune “The Rise and the Fall of It All”, made more sublime by the influence of Bahamanian guitarist Joseph Spence, and Shaun’s lyrics and vocal stylings.

There’s plenty of good guitar music and expert fingerpicking on this video. Ernest Troost sings and plays “By and By”, a sweet tune with a lilting guitar part.  Another highlight of the video is Garrin Benfield‘s stunning voice and guitar work on his beautiful song “Unbound”. David Siegler contributes an example of his clean and precise picking on his instrumental piece “Walking the Round”; Bruce Victor offers up a rousing rendition of his tribute to Michael Hedges, and I (Mokai,) add a little guitar madness on my number “Holy Guacamole”.

A little more about the video: no jittery camera, we had a tripod! Excellent use of available light and a glorious hotel room setting! Performers playing  incredibly despite having not slept in days! The audio was recorded separately to an external recorder, so it has some extra sparkle. I’ve made a high resolution version available for guitar geeks who want to see the fingers clearly.

It’s a beautiful collections of songs–leave it on as a soundtrack as you make dinner or make love, or both! The only thing wrong with this video is the absence of female artists. Attribute this to the vagaries of hallway encounters, not to my skill at charming people up to my hotel room (something I am not a novice at).

During this wild weekend at the conference, I played several showcases, and attended many more, as well as workshops and jam sessions ’til late at night. When I ran into someone I knew is a picker, I would cajole them into coming up to the room and playing a tune. It was great fun and a great way to see some good picking up close, as well as see an impressive collection of guitars. Serious guitar obsession satiation! In the context of the overall conference, it was a fun adventure.

FAR-West, as a regional association of members of the national Folk Alliance, is a bit of an upstart, as far as having it’s own flavor and personality befitting the iconoclastic region it encompasses. The annual conference is a full blown affair, with hundreds of musicians, promoters and concert presenters, as well as writers, producers,and DJs–all dedicated to Folk music, descending on a hotel, and in the manner of the national Folk Alliance conference, they take over the conference rooms and most of the hotel rooms, just like any massing of shriners. Only here you’ve got guys with banjos wandering the halls, and ladies lugging contrabasses in the elevators; jams breaking out in the lobby and a huge convention hall full of people purveying the business of Folk.

It’s worth noting that the definition of ‘Folk’ here encompasses everything in acoustic music, including original music, singer-songwriter, traditional and world music. FAR-West and Folk Alliance are involved in networking independent musicians and lovers of acoustic music, and doing a pretty good job of it, too.

The funnest part of the conference is having a whole floor of the hotel where the rooms are turned into listening rooms and dozens of performers are playing at once for several hours each night. You can stroll the hallways, running into friends, meeting new people and dropping in on performances. Most importantly, it really is a zone where not a discouraging word is heard–everyone is enjoying themselves and each other, and it’s all about the music.

Please watch the video and let me know what you think. Over the coming weeks I will be posting the individual songs as clips on my youTube page, and posting to this blog, with more information on the individual players, their guitars and their songs.

Notes about streaming:

1) The blip tv channel plays a ‘tube’ version (.flv for geeks) which should stream for everybody. Notice the little button on the lower right that lets you play it full screen. This version is much lower quality video, but the sound is still pretty good.

2) The high quality (Mp4) version will stream for those with a fast internet connection, so you can play it straight through at that size. If it is not streaming smoothly, then leave it load until the bar on the bottom is full (could take some time.) At that point you can play it through.

Any comments and feedback are welcome….

About Mokai

Fingerpicking Fool

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