Guitar Mash, a participatory guitar festival and multi-platform initiative to bring players of varying backgrounds together set for Nov. 11 at City Winery, is the latest in arts event/festival producer Rebecca Weller’s goal of engaging audiences in experiencing the artist’s creative process.
The inaugural event, to run from 11:30 am to 3 p.m., will feature 200 acoustic guitarists playing along with friends, strangers and musical heroes. It will benefit New York’s Church Street School for Music and Art in Tribeca, as well as Guitar Mash, the non-profit founded by Weller this year to bring together guitarists and music lovers locally and globally.
“It’s all about sharing the creative process,” says Weller, who co-founded Lincoln Center’s Midsummer Night Swing festival in 1989 and produced it for the next 13 years.
“It actively engaged the audience in what was happening on stage—turning the ‘you’ into a ‘we,’” explains Weller of the series, which taught various dance styles and encouraged it during performances by everything from Louisiana zydeco bands to top bhangra DJs.
Weller went on to produce and co-host Harmony In The Kitchen in the late ‘90s in Chelsea at Peter Kump’s Chef School (now The Institute of Culinary Education).
That series featured performing artists who were passionate about cooking, including Marc Savoy, Tito Puete, Spalding Gray and choreographer Mark Morris—“people who loved cooking and came in to cook a favorite meal, show how to do it and then serve it to the audience,” she says. “Most important, they also talked about the parallels between the creative process on stage, in the studio and in the kitchen in demonstrating the idea of collaboration in music and food.”
Guitar Mash, then, “is an extension of the mission to actively engage the audience,” continues Weller.
“I don’t like sitting and digesting something,” she adds. “You understand something 20 times more if you’re actively engaged in it than just sitting there and having it fed to you.”
For Guitar Mash, Weller has enlisted Paul Simon’s guitarist Mark Stewart, “who lives and breathes our mission and believes music is everyone’s birthright,” as musical director. He will be joined by other stellar guitarists including Larry Campbell, who has played with the likes of Bob Dylan and Levon Helm, Wilco’s Nels Cline, Patti Smith Group’s Lenny Kaye, Living Colour’s Vernon Reid and country/folk blues guitarist/educator Stefan Grossman.
“It was very important to both me and Mark to feature artists who weren’t just big names but really cared about actively engaging the audience in going on a special journey together, using the ‘Great Connector,’ that is, the most democratic of instruments, the guitar,” says Weller. “It crosses the lines of culture, class and generation.”
The centerpiece of Guitar Mash is a mass guitar jam led by Stewart and the other guitar stars, backed by a house band made up of top New York session players, with the event’s attendees joining in on repertoire that can be downloaded and practiced prior to the jam.
“There will be Mark and these great guitarists sharing themselves with a room of a couple hundred guitarists of all ages, proficiency levels and music backgrounds–and another 100 people bearing witness,” says Weller, noting that the jam will stream online, with accompanying song lyrics and chords, via the Livestream event streaming site, so that players who aren’t there can take part.
Meanwhile, participants will also be able to enter a “Dream Guitars” room curated by Guitar Mash music partner Sam Ash Music, where for a small fee they can play rare and vintage guitars; they can also bid on signed instruments (including a ukulele signed by Jake Shimabukuro) and guitar paraphernalia (an effects pedal signed by The Edge) as part of the Guitar Mash silent auction.
Ever the foodie, Weller notes that Guitar Mash will also feature “a great brunch with craft beers and cocktails.” It will benefit Tribeca’s nonprofit community Church Street School for Music and Art, and Weller’s broader Guitar Mash initiative, consisting of a series of live events and online collaborations bringing together guitarists and music lovers from all locations.
“It really does help people connect,” concludes Weller, who envisions growing the festival beyond New York, physically and via online community.
The unique nature of the guitar, she adds, “means so many things,” namely, “the gregariousness of a campfire, the sex appeal of a rock star, or the contemplative time alone with an instrument up against your heart or strapped against your back.”
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