John Jorgenson has been involved with Guitar Town at Copper Mountain almost since its inception. This year, for the festival’s 10th anniversary, the Grammy-winning artist and de facto musical director has invited only the best of the best musicians representing every guitar genre on the map.
“I think we only invite people who are really great guitar players, not like just a singer-songwriter who might strum on a guitar,” he said. “I think it’s unique that way. The styles of people that we bring, everything from slack-key Hawaiian to metal, classic rock and blues, bluegrass, whatever — it’s pretty much all across the board.”
Guitar Town is divided into two days of performances of almost every style of music, with Saturday, Aug. 9, devoted to acoustic guitar and Sunday, Aug. 10, plugging in with electric sessions. Jorgenson said if you were into guitar, period, you would like the event.
“Albert Lee is probably one of the best country players in the world,” Jorgenson said, rattling off some of the well-known names that would be in attendance. “Lee Roy Parnell has laid-back delta blues slide. Tommy Emmanuel has incredible, high-energy solo acoustic; he does that like no one it the world. Chris Hillman, I’m really excited about that because we played for years together, and he’s going to do some Birds songs with me as a guest. Sonny Landreth is an amazing Cajun-style player.”
Jorgenson said he’s bringing back all of his favorite people for this 10th anniversary edition of the event.
“Pretty much all of these guys know each other, are friends, have collaborated before,” he said. “There will be a lot of surprise special things, people sitting in at the last minute and special collaborations. Just the feeling — it’s really good, friendly, not competitive at all, but everybody wants to up their game when they’re being watched by great players.”
In addition to the live performances, Guitar Town allows the general public free access to workshops and panel discussions and a chance to simply hang out with legendary guitar players.
“It’s not a high-security thing like a normal concert, where you would never get to talk to the artists,” Jorgenson said. “It’s a very warm, relaxing kind of feeling that usually is not in combination with world-class musicians.”
Many of the musicians who have played past Guitar Town festivals are returning with new projects and special guests for the 10th anniversary. Landreth said he recalled playing in the very first Guitar Town event, a sort of homecoming after performing in many other locations all over Colorado in the 1980s when he lived in Estes Park.
“The fact that they’ve really honed in on guitarists and at the same time explored all the different genres and possibilities of the music, how that translates is really cool,” Landreth said. “And the environment is awesome, being up there at Copper Mountain. I used to ski all those areas back when I was younger, ski all day and play gigs at night. It’s really inspirational, seeing all my old friends come out.”
When Landreth was a kid, Elvis Presley came on the scene and Presley’s guitar player, Scotty Moore, followed by the British Invasion and The Beatles, particularly intrigued Landreth. Despite starting with the trumpet, he soon picked up finger-style guitar before getting into slide.
“I was hooked. I always wanted to play guitar, it was my first love,” Landreth said, adding that his influences were varied. “Delta players all the way up through Chicago blues, Cajun and zydeco music back home had a big impact on me. Slide guitar was my voice on guitar, and it was that vocal quality about it that drew me to it in the first place.”
Landreth said it would be good to hang out with Jorgenson again this weekend and to get a chance to play some straight-ahead blues from his next studio album project. He doesn’t often get the opportunity to check out his fellow players, he added, something he’s looking forward to this weekend.
“Most of the time, we’re in and out so quick because of the hectic nature of scheduling,” he said. “I like coming in early to see what everyone else is doing.”
The incredible location and the energy that only comes from a guitar festival will draw Australian guitarist Emmanuel back to Copper for his third Guitar Town.
“There’s something so universally magnetic about that,” he said. “I’ve noticed that all over the world. It doesn’t matter where you go, if there’s a guitar festival, it’s like a magnet for people. … It’s really, really great, and I appreciate that they wanted me to come back. So I’ll be in good shape and give them the best I possibly can.”
Emmanuel’s attraction to guitar lies in its ability to be a very challenging but also very feel-good instrument, capable of drawing out different types of energy.
“For instance, yesterday, here in Long Beach Island, New Jersey, I did an afternoon show at 2 o’clock and an evening show, and they were night and day, two different shows, different repertory, different feeling, different audience,” he said. “Last night, I had the energy of a young Elvis Presley, and during the day, I had a different kind of energy. I didn’t talk as much, and I played a more reserved kind of thing. But last night, I let it fly and I played a whole bunch of surfing things, from my childhood, got the idea to do it and went into it and ended up with Jimmy Hendrix’s ‘Purple Haze.’”
The two-time Grammy nominee describes his style as being a “songs player.”
“Everything I play is very self-contained,” he said. “It’s not just a continuous jam. It’s just me; I just play on my own, so my style, which is a finger style, is like piano playing on a guitar. I’m covering the bass part, and I’m playing chords and melody over the top of that.”
Aside from his acoustic work, Emmanuel will also be dabbling on the electric side.
“Sunday I’m going to join in with the electric stuff, which I don’t get to do very often, and man, that’s going to be a lot of fun,” he said. “I’m just looking forward to coming back up there. It’s going to be a special year, the 10th anniversary, and I’m very honored to be asked to come back. It’s all about the people. It’s about getting up there and us giving our best to the public; that’s what we’re there for.”
Workshops and discussions
Emmanuel will be giving it his all on the stage and also sharing his knowledge through workshops with other Guitar Town all stars.
“Each morning at 10:30, we have more like a panel than a workshop,” Jorgenson said. “All the musicians performing that day will be on a panel with a moderator who’s speaking to us. We’ll play and show examples and talk. It’ll be like sitting in the living room with world-class guitar players and you get to be a fly on the wall and see what they talk about amongst themselves. It’s really familial and comfortable.”
The audience can ask questions, Jorgenson said, and even if you aren’t a guitar player, you’ll learn something about what it is to be a traveling musician. Emmanuel said he hasn’t done a workshop at Copper before, but has done them in Nashville, Tennessee and Los Angeles.
“I love teaching,” he said. “I don’t think I’m a gifted teacher, but I think I have some experience and knowledge that I can hand on and help others.”
Emmanuel said sometimes people ask questions about song writing and inspiration, and talking about what inspires you can be deep and really interesting. He said he never enters with a set plan or tries to direct the conversation.
“I’m not one of those people who hands out pamphlets of what I’m going to teach and teach what’s on the paper,” he said. “I’ve never done that. I generally approach it from a practical point of view as I make a living as someone who pays the guitar. So I’d better have it together.”
Topics could range from preparing a concert, building a repertoire and getting a good sound to the importance of your vision and attitude or more technical details, Emmanuel said.
“I enjoy explaining what I do,” he said. “Really a lot of it is about the bottom line of you have to get out there and give it everything you’re got and you better not hold anything back. You have to give it all away; otherwise, you might not get a chance to give it again.”
Jorgenson said with its free workshops, performances and unprecedented access to artists, any guitar lover would be foolish not to come to Guitar Town.
“I hope they leave just delighted and thinking, god, I’ll probably never see anything like that again,” he said.