Guitarist and singer-songwriter Willy Porter describes himself as a musical mutt, blending funk, acoustic, rock ’n’ roll, folk, jazz, finger-style and other tunes.
“It’s all of that,” said the musician from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “It’s kind of a unique blend. I don’t say that with any ego; it’s just how it’s been described by everyone else.”
Porter’s influences range from Frank Zappa, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young to Duke Ellington, Tom Waits and the Jackson 5. He said he looks at music as an equal-opportunity art form.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s out of tune, badly played punk or if it’s Stravinsky, I love everything,” he said. “I say that with no pretense; it’s just the truth.”
Willy & Chas
Porter will bring this mish-mash of melodic inspiration to the stage with local violin virtuoso and Dercum Center for the Arts and Humanities director Charles “Chas” Wetherbee on Friday, Aug. 8, at Warren Station in Keystone. The show will explore old favorites, as well as tunes from Porter’s new CD, “Cheeseburgers & Gasoline,” which will be released in October.
“Chas is a great improviser, as well as a top-shelf, first-class classical musician,” Porter said. “He’s one of the best violinists in the world, so when I get together with him, it’s all intuitive, for the most part. We talk through arrangements and things, but generally we just play and trust where the song will lead us.”
Porter recorded a live album with Chas’ string quartet, Carpe Diem, a number of years ago, and the group has done a fair amount of touring since then, he said. Carpe Diem also appears in two songs on “Cheeseburgers & Gasoline.”
“I’ve known Willy now for about a half-dozen years, and we’ve worked together a lot with the quartet,” Chas said. “We’re going to be playing a couple of things from that CD that’s not yet out, a couple of old favorites, and I’ll join him on a couple of tunes that we’ve never worked on before. So it’s a little bit of old, a little bit of new and some coming attractions.”
As a duo, Porter said there’s a fair amount of improvisation and a fair amount of written music, which he described as “sort of aggressive.”
“I use the guitar like it’s the whole band; I treat it like a rock show,” Porter said. “The guitar has all of the sequences that are present in all music. It’s really a fun ride with Chas.”
“I think it works great,” Chas said. “With Willy, he’s such a virtuoso payer; he’s able to create such amazing textures from the guitar. And together, he and I work together to really make as full a sound as possible. This is the only concert that we do which is not acoustic. We’re amplified, and Willy knows how to tweak all those balances to get a sound out of the PA system and provides quite a dynamic texture.”
Snake River Music Festival
“Willy & Chas” is part of the 16th annual Snake River Music Festival, the highlight of the Dercum Center’s annual calendar. The concerts in the series feature superb musicians from all over the country, joined by Chas, whom locals know from his two seasons as concertmaster with the National Repertory Orchestra and his connection to the Dercum family, said Karina Wetherbee, general manager of the Dercum Center.
“The music is mostly classical music for small chamber ensembles, but there are also special events like this summer’s Willy Porter concert and the local jazz group Trading Fours as the closing event,” Karina said. “The concerts are designed to bring world-class music to the Summit County community. Concerts are generally donations only, and all events are funded by direct donations from audience members and local supporters.”
Karina said the Dercum Center values eclectic, high-quality collaborations between artists of different genres, meaning that the evening with Chas and Porter fits right in.
“It is in the cross-pollination of musical styles that the diamonds are found,” she said. “Willy is an amazing artist and a performer whose powerfully generous personality shines through in his songwriting. Chas Wetherbee is a virtuosic player, who can sight read anything and improv like nobody’s business.”
Following the concert on Friday night in Keystone, the Snake River Music Festival will return to the Dillon Community Church for the third-annual Max and Edna Dercum Memorial Concert on Sunday, Aug. 10.
“It’s in remembrance of Karina’s grandfather, Max, who played clarinet,” Chas said. “We have a great guest clarinetist, Håkan Rosengren, who’s Swedish. And then the following weekend we have some old festival favorite musicians back, then some traditional chamber music with piano, including the Schumann piano quartet, which is an audience favorite, and Beethoven string trio.”
Porter said Friday’s concert fits into the largely classical repertoire of the festival because he and Chas are both classically trained musicians.
“There’s elements of that in how I approach the guitar,” he said. “But I think in some ways, this is more of a contemporary collaboration. Certainly, Chas brings this depth of musicality forged through years of playing classical music, which will inform this music in a beautiful way. It dovetails nicely into what people see as a more traditional classical music festival. This will have some edges and some hair on it, if that makes sense.”