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Premier Guitar Festivals: Boston Wrap-Up
Guitarists from all over the Northeast joined us September 15th and 16th for our first ever Premier Guitar Festival. If you couldn’t make it, here’s a quick recap of two tone-filled days in Boston.
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Premier Guitar Festivals picked an interesting time to set up shop in Boston. The show took place September 15th and 16th, the same weekend the Yankees were in town for a three game series with the Red Sox, so the energy level was even higher than usual in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which fit in just fine with the anticipatory vibe at the Bayside Expo Center, the location of Premier Guitar Festival’s inaugural event.
Festivities started Friday evening with a VIP reception and concert, featuring music by the theme band Big ‘80s and Boston stalwarts Ernie and the Automatics. The audience was decidedly low key, exhausted and content to enjoy some beer and good music after a long day of setting up, but there was no lack of energy coming from the stage that evening.
The show opened to the public Saturday morning, with the crowds beginning in earnest around noon, allowing time to recuperate from the Sox’ loss to the Yankees the previous evening. Attendees were greeted by two of the event’s most impressive vintage displays directly across from the ticket booths, Rumble Seat and the Vermont Collection. The majority of the vintage dealers – Jim’s Guitars, Rivington, Guitar Gallery of New England, My Generation, Axe In Hand and Southside – were near the entrance, keeping an eye out for tolex and alligator cases coming through the front door, while also making it convenient for guests interested in ogling the amazing vintage gear being displayed. Other great vintage booths were Blue Chip Guitars and Lucchesi Vintage, the latter specializing in many fine Gibson and Martin acoustics.
Unfortunately, the hall’s acoustics weren’t conducive to savoring the intricate tonal qualities of prewar Brazilian rosewood. In fact, if there can be a single negative leveled at the show, it would be the volume level, which was high enough to make even basic conversation difficult at times, and made demoing and selling gear more of a chore than it would have been otherwise. Fortunately by Sunday the volume had been turned down across the board and discussions over woods and wiring had returned to sensible decibel levels.
In addition to all of the fine vintage gear available, tons of new products were also exhibited. Michael Swart was in attendance with a Space Tone Reverb, which everyone was salivating over – word on the street is release is just around the corner. Pigtronix created quite a stir with their new ADSR Attack Sustain pedal that offers up some amazing sustain and backward effects unlike anything you have heard. Gentleman Jimmy Somma was in the house, rocking his Sommatone amps, and we got a chance to listen to the Slick-18 Earl Slick Signature model. It sounded amazing even through the din on the show floor.
Fishman was demoing their new Aura Imaging Pedals, and we were lucky enough to catch a demo with Marcus Eaton. Needless to say, even without Marcus’ chops, the pedals sounded great, and although the term “acoustic stompbox” initially seemed like an oxymoron, it all makes sense now. Analog Mike and Analog Tom had set up shop back in the corner, with their two respective companies – Analog Man and For Musicians Only – sharing a booth. Mike showed off some upcoming pedals, as well as a few that are in short supply, such as the Peppermint Fuzz and the King of Tone. Tom had a ton of cool old pedals as well as copies of his book, Analog Man’s Guide to Vintage Effects, on hand.
Boston Guitar Works had a great booth, with tons of high-end guitars, amps and effects, but the high-point was their selection of Jersey Girl guitars, along with the luthier responsible for them, Kaz Goto. It was a pleasure to meet him as well as play his beautiful creations, which did indeed play and sound as good as they looked. Campbell American Guitars was there, showing off their Bill Nelson signature model, the Nelsonic Transitone, which sports a cool, original design which has the good fortune of feeling instantly familiar. Becker Guitars displayed some of their unique hollow body creations, and Phil from Liquid Metal Guitars demoed his aluminum creations, which had a warm, exceptionally balanced and surprisingly traditional tone. Another exciting newcomer was Simple Machine guitars. Designed and built by an ex-demolitions expert named Dutch, these guitars were lacking very little style and attitude-wise. Be sure to keep an eye out for them.
Taylor Guitars showcased their new solidbody creations after weeks of teasing. Not surprisingly, they looked great, played like butter, and sounded phenomenal. Anyone surprised? Other highlights included the Bose booth, right around the corner from Taylor, where Chuck and Ken were rocking out via the L1 system. For anyone who has yet to hear these things, they disperse sound in such a way as to eliminate the need for monitors. It’s akin to alchemy, with the exception of it working as advertised, and needs to be heard to be believed.
Although gear was a big part of the show, it wasn’t everything, with plenty of clinics scheduled throughout the day, and live shows after business was done every day. Spanning four workshop rooms, attendees were taking full advantage of the chance to get close and personal with some exceptional musicians, and perhaps learn a lick or two in the process. It was not uncommon to look into a workshop room and see everyone with a guitar in hand, waiting patiently for the class to get underway. Artists like Muriel Anderson, Stu Hamm and Mimi Fox spent 45-minute intervals teaching packed workshop rooms about everything from fingerstyle technique to jazz improvisation. PG’s own Peter Stroud taught a course called, “In Pursuit of Tone,” where attendees had the chance to sit with Peter and discuss all things tone, from amps to pedals to cabling, with everyone leaving a bit more enlightened.
Perhaps one of the most anticipated programs in the workshop area were the jams. Occurring in the genres of blues, jazz and rock, these gave attendees the chance to get up on stage and play with the instructors themselves, allowing for a distinctly intimate kind of instruction. Each jam took on a character of its own – Frank Vignola’s Saturday jazz jam found him crowded on stage with no fewer than seven guitarists, directing traffic on a easy two-chord vamp, while Sunday afternoon’s rock jam, led by Jeff Scheetz and Trey Alexander, took turns inviting guitarists to the stage, for some individual attention.
Saturday night closed with Muriel Anderson’s All-Star Guitar Night, featuring amazing performances by Muriel Anderson, David Hamburger, Mimi Fox and the Frank Vignola Quintet (including a frentic juxtaposition of the metal classic “Black Sabbath” and Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee”) in the first half. After the break, Stu Hamm took to the stage, opening with a technically- mindboggling solo rendition of the national anthem before inviting up Bruce Arnold and exploring some angular rock textures. Trey Alexander, the 23-year-old virtuoso showed up for an alternately bluesy and jazzy rendition of “Voodoo Chile,” and Monte Montgomery played his trademark brand of acoustic hard rock. It was something indeed to look out to the audience and see hundreds of heads bobbing in unison.
Johnny A contributed a set, wowing the crowd with his mastery of the guitar, and incorporating snippets of classic riffs into his own unique sound, and the night closed out with Robben Ford charging the stage after an intro by proxy from Larry Carlton. Robben wasted no time in winding the crowd up with his strong vocals and impeccable chops and tone, seemingly incapable of hitting a wrong note. Launching into a fire-breathing rendition of Freddie King’s “Hideaway” he set the tone for the set early on, which was unfortunately cut short due to time constraints, definitely leaving the crowd wanting more.
After a long day Sunday, four contestants in the 335 Records Competition took to the main stage, vying for a record deal, and the show closed out with the New Guitar Summit, showcasing the tasty blues stylings of J. Geils, Gerry Beaudoin and Duke Robillard. As the sun set on the waterfront of Boston that evening, exhibitors dutifully tore down their walls of guitars and stacks of amps, loaded up their rental trucks and headed back home, signaling a close to one of the most musical weekends the Bayside Expo Center has even seen. A big thanks to all who could join us in Boston’s biggest celebration of the guitar.