Annie & the Hot Club
Courtesy Photo

CALLING ALL LUTHIERS: There is nothing like the beautiful crafting and design of a handmade acoustic instrument. While any factory can churn out a dinky ukulele or assembly-line guitar in a serviceable fashion with a serviceable tone, few hands can shape a sound as beautifully resonant as an expert luthier can, and few strings can sing as sweetly as those strummed and slid by a skilled set of luthier fingers.

From Thursday, September 29, to Monday, October 3, the 2016 Santa Barbara Acoustic Instrument Celebration (SBAIC) will honor such expertly handmade acoustic instruments, the craftspeople who create them, and the communities who surround them with a series of concerts and classes dedicated to the choicest chordophones on the planet. Based at Earl Warren Showgrounds and with additional performances in venues all over town, master musicians and woodworkers from around the world will converge on Santa Barbara stages and show spaces to showcase some of the finest instruments directly with the public, where appreciators of the form can meet one another and hear new frontiers in instrument fabrication and acoustic composition.

The festival continues the legacy started two decades ago in Healdsburg, California, by Charles Fox, Tom Ribbecke, and Todd Taggart, who founded the Healdsburg Guitar Festival as a way to meet other luthiers and for luthiers to sell their wares and preserve the art of handmade guitars. The festival lasted until 2014, when the Luthier Mercantile could no longer afford to keep up the gathering, and SBAIC director Kevin Gillies saw a void to be filled. A woodworker who has worked in architecture and furniture-making, Gillies finds the timeless design of acoustic instruments to be infinitely compelling. “The acoustic instrument is something to behold; it really is. The violin has hardly even improved over 400 years, and that’s remarkable if you consider how rapidly information changes,” he said. “Just to be in the room with an amazing instrument is a real joy.”

Claude LaFlammeAnnie
Courtesy Photo

For the whole weekend, acoustical joys will abound. The festival kicks off on Thursday, September 29, at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club (1221 State St.) with a guitars-in-the-round concert featuring finger-style masters Michael Chapdelaine, Sean McGowan, and Kinloch Nelson, who will play both rootsy traditional songs and stump-the-crowd deep cuts. Friday night features numerous performances, starting with Celtic guitar player Tony McManus at Earl Warren Concert Room (3400 Calle Real), followed by fiery playing from Stevie Coyle and Walter Strauss at SOhO, with a classical guitar celebration by Andre Feriante, Giacomo Fiore, and Michael Chapdelaine ending the night at Center Stage Theater (751 Paseo Nuevo). More shows fill out Saturday, with a headlining show at the Lobero Theatre (33 E. Canon Perdido St.) by gypsy jazz wild children Annie & the Hot Club, guitarist Richard Smith, and harp-guitarist Muriel Anderson. Sunday’s closing celebration at the Marjorie Luke Theatre (721 E. Cota St.) will shine a light on the Acoustic Guitar Gods of the Future with rising string-strumming stars Antoine Dufour, Craig D’Andrea, Trevor Gordon Hall, and Claude LaFlamme. And if that weren’t enough, the Lobero offers a post-celebration treat with the legendary dobro act the Jerry Douglas Band and singer extraordinaire Maura O’Connell on Monday night.

But one of the coolest things about the festival is its huge selection of master classes. From meticulous tone production and alternate tunings to nifty percussive techniques and outside-the-box approaches, the master classes will touch on just about every aspect of acoustical performance and production, where music fans can meet the artisans and see their one-of-a-kind creations in show-and-sell sessions in the afternoon. In an ever-digitized world, the SBAIC promises a chance to connect with the deepest of musical roots: the instruments and their raw ingredients, the creators and their creations, the people, the binds they share, and the yoking strings of community.

The SBAIC runs in venues across town Thursday, September 29-Monday, October 3. For more information, visit


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