Legends, newbies converge at Copper’s Guitar Town
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All self-respecting music fans would be wise to make it to The Village at Copper this weekend, be they a fan of rock, pop or even country. Copper’s Fifth Annual Guitar Town festival kicks off today, bringing together some of the most renowned guitarists from every conceivable genre.
“To have that many world-class guitar players and have it be a free festival is phenomenal,” said guitarist John Jorgenson, one of the festival’s returning favorites.
Jorgenson has spent over 40 years playing guitar, which makes him one of the show’s veteran performers. Jorgenson said he got his first guitar when he was 10, in spite of some reluctance on the part of his classical musician parents.
“I was smitten with the guitar, in large part because of all the guitar music coming out of England in the ’60s,” Jorgenson said. “I kind of had to beg for the guitar for the first couple of years.”
Though Jorgenson described his playing style as “all over the place,” there’s one genre that excites him more than any other: gypsy jazz. Developed by French guitarist Django Reinhardt in the 1930s, gypsy jazz is a hybrid style that has a lot of pop and swing to it, unlike many types of jazz. Though Jorgenson has played many different types of music, he’ll be playing gypsy jazz with his band, the John Jorgenson Quintet, at Guitar Town.
“It’s very high energy, melodic and technically demanding,” Jorgenson said. “But it’s got a lot of spirit, and it’s very fun. It’s a European and American meld, so it’s got an exotic element to it.”
Another veteran with experience in multiple genres is Brent Mason, an acclaimed session guitarist out of Nashville. Though Mason doesn’t have a great deal of mainstream recognition on his own, he holds credits on hundreds of albums from artists like Alan Jackson, Natalie Cole and Shania Twain. According to Bob Berwell, general manager of Dreamcatcher Artist Management (who picked the music for Guitar Town), Mason is the “gold standard” of session musicians.
“If there’s such a thing as the No. 1 guitar player in Nashville, he’s it,” Berwell said. “There’s no guitar magazine that he’s not in every month.”
Mason said recognition accumulated slowly for him as he slogged his way through the music industry.
“Over the years I picked up a lot of fans just by playing on hundreds and hundreds of records,” he said. “You gotta put on a different hat every session because you never know who you’re going to work with.”
If Jorgenson and Mason are the workhorses who have proven themselves time and again, then Joe Robinson and Sol Philcox are the heirs to their thrones. Robinson, an 18-year-old native of Australia, is already a celebrity Down Under after winning “Australia’s Got Talent” in 2008. He’s also played with fellow Australian superstars Tommy and Phil Emmanuel, two of his idols. Robinson said he’s awestruck by the chance to play with so many big names this weekend.
“These are the guys who I’d watch videos of when I was a kid and try to emulate how they played,” he said.
Robinson sticks mostly to acoustic guitar, though he has been known to fire up an electric one for a change of pace. His playing style is indescribably quick and complex, with a definite blues tinge to it. Robinson attributed his jaw-dropping technique to long hours of practice, as much as natural talent.
“The fundamental thing behind it all is passion,” he said. “You have to have passion to drive yourself to practice and play everyday. Growing up, I used to play from dawn until dusk. I still play literally as much as I can physically allow.”
The other young gun, 18-year-old Sol Philcox of England, has been making waves as well. Philcox had only been playing guitar for a few years before Mason discovered him and took him on as a protege. Like Mason, Philcox’s playing style is a mashup of multiple genres – everything from punk to pop and country. Philcox said it was Mason who turned him on to the idea of playing music professionally as a session artist.
“When I heard what Brent did, I wanted to be a working musician,” Philcox said. “It’s something I never, ever expected I’d be doing.”
Mason and Jorgenson both said they’re very impressed by young talents like Robinson and Philcox, and that they were proud to have influenced them in some way.
“I’m appreciative of them because I can hear my stuff in their music,” Mason said.
Jorgenson agreed, though he added that he was going to keep playing for a long time to come.
“I feel really blessed,” he said. “I’m just open to whatever comes my way.”
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