Adelaide Guitar Festival has confirmed Tommy Emmanuel as opening act for its return in 2018. We spoke to Emmanuel to find out how, after all these years, the guitar is still full of surprises.
Is the guitar still relevant in 2017? It’s a question you might want to keep to yourself come August 2018, as the Adelaide Guitar Festival rears its head again bringing with it Australia’s great acoustic guitar innovator Tommy Emmanuel. Pop charts and airwaves may eschew strings for synths and samplers, but as Emmanuel explains the people’s string instrument has never been more popular.
“From what I can see there are more guitar players, more people interested in the guitar than ever,” he says with all the excitement of a teenager in a guitar shop. “Right across the board, acoustic and electric – but there are definitely more acoustic players now, and people are starting younger.”
He can see it in the scores of young folk picking up guitars and racing to platforms like YouTube to learn and share their progress, often hungrily devouring the prolific output of artists like Tommy as they go. It’s certainly evident in his near-nightly tendency to bump into a stranger who will offer a near-perfect rendition of one of his arrangements, ever-eager to share their accomplishment in person.
“YouTube has definitely changed our world a lot, people discover you on there and in the early days it had a big effect,” he explains of his millions of views. “Places like Sweden, Norway Denmark, all those places I’d never been before I was selling out the shows. A lot of people just said ‘I saw you on YouTube and wanted to see you live’, and I’m really glad about that. The thing I did notice is that the amount of views on YouTube does not equal concert tickets – you still have to build your audience, you know!
“I think the fact that a lot of us are out there touring, playing concerts and guitar festivals, I think that young people can see that maybe there’s a future in it and maybe they can have a career doing it.”
It’s a long way from Emmanuel’s days straining by the wireless to pick out a Chet Atkins song, working backwards to figure out how those walking bass lines, rhythms and melodic runs could be achieved by one set of hands. If he was lucky, an opportunity to meet and play with other guitarists might further expand his world, something he still values today in festivals around the world.
“It’s really exciting, because everybody brings something different,” he says. “It makes you very conscious of your style and your own way of playing, and when we get a chance to play together everybody’s really listening and trying to complement each other’s playing.
“I remember the first time I played Vancouver Folk Music Festival and they put me together with a guy from Madagascar and a guy from Brazil – neither of them could speak English and we’d never seen each other before. They said ‘we want the three of you to go on stage and make music in front of the audience without any preparation’.
“It was so wonderful, it made us really listen to each other and communicate with our eyes, our faces and really listen to each other. It turned out to be a really special event. That’s the real spontaneity and joy, it doesn’t matter where you come from, you’ll find a way to make music together.”
For Emmanuel’s opening night concert he’ll be bringing two friends and regular collaborators in Pedro Javier Gonzalez (Spain) and Richard Smith (USA), and his enthusiasm is infectious. “Adelaide has never seen Pedro Xavier Gonzalez play his Flamenco guitar, no one’s seen anybody like Pedro,” he says. “He’s going to blow people’s minds – and he makes it look so smooth!
“He’s a true master,” Emmanuel says, perhaps revealing the real secret behind the guitar’s enduring popularity: no matter what stage of their career, inside every guitarist is a guitar nerd still in awe of other players skills.
Tommy Emmanuel & Friends
Thursday August 9, 2018
Adelaide Guitar Festival
August 9-12, 2018