Thoughts on the 6th annual Alternative Guitar Summit

This is the 6th year of the Alternative Guitar Summit, but it still feels brand new. There seem to be brilliant guitarists everywhere that are finding new roads into our imaginations. 

This year we're focusing on two things: the first is the guitar as a means towards infinite sonic possibilities. More and more players have been finding ways to conjure mind-blowing sounds from the instrument that are far from traditional rhythm playing or soloing. It all began, of course, with Hendrix. I think he would be delighted to see what's happened since he left us. David Torn, for instance, the headliner on May 9th, has made improvisational sonic rapture his focus, and has done as much as anyone to search for ways to advance the sound scape.

Others are using advanced composition to chart new paths, such as Patrick Higgins and Gyan Riley (who is part of Dither Guitar Quartet.) It's finally happened- the Stratocaster is now accepted as an instrument that classical composers can write extended works for without opprobrium. And of course, the guitar can do so much  that the future feels limitless. Elliot Sharp, composer and improvisational wizard, approaches the instrument from the lineage of Harry Partch, Sonny Sharrock, Fred Frith, and Derek Bailey, employing extended techniques and funky dissonances, creating joyful noise from jagged parts. Anthony Pirog is a newer face. He joins us from Washington D.C., my hometown, and is no doubt one of the strongest younger voices on the instrument.

Our other focus is a new yearly series entitled While We're Still Here. I'm trying to honor mentors and comrades while they are still with us, not just after they are gone. Carla Bley and Joni Mitchell both have created a massive body of work that is as moving as it is original. One uses lyrics, the other not, but they both are fantastic melody makers, fearless, impassioned, clever, and insightful. Carla Bley has a recorded history going all the way back to the late 1950's, and she's still at it, in the midst of a huge big band work for a European ensemble as we speak. Completely by coincidence it happens to be her 80th birthday on the day of our show. What can you say- sometimes the stars align.

Eight guitarists will bring Bley's and Mitchell's melodies to life with strategies you simply won't find anywhere else. We'll have duos, Nels Cline and Julian Lage, Ben Monder and Becca Stevens, a trio with trumpet, guitar, and voice led by Dave Douglas, and another trio led by Steve Cardenas who plays with Carla Bley in Steve Swallow's band. I'll be leading a quartet with a wonderful singer named Everett Bradley who will sing a lesser known, stunning Joni song entitled Borderline. Wolfgang Muthspiel is coming all the way from Vienna to join us, and he will join my band as well as play a solo set of his own. Wolfgang alone is worth the price of admission, trust me! 

The Alternative Guitar Summit invites you to experience our lovely, unorthodox, noisy, emotional, wildly non-commercial view of things. Hopefully you will emerge with an even deeper feeling for all the things the guitar can do. To that end check out what Pat Metheny said about AGS recently. It's this type of encouragement that keeps us all going:

“It has been exciting to watch the Alt Guitar Summit emerge as one of the most interesting and distinguished forums for our instrument on the planet. The work that Joel has done with this festival to showcase the development of the guitar and the expanded role that it has taken in music is a testament to the almost unlimited sonic dimensions the word “guitar” can invoke in the imagination of musicians and fans alike."

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By Joel Harrison


For more information about the Alternative Guitar Summit, please visit our schedule page.


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