The history of stringed instruments goes back as far as 3,000 BCE, according to musicologist Richard Dumbrill, who has found evidence of lute-like instruments in Mesopotamian paintings. Millennia later, the lute and its spawns — which include cellos, fiddles, and other stringed instruments with a “neck and a sound box” — are still major components of music today. The guitar, for example, is the mainstay of jazz, folk, and rock and roll.
The guitar is so important, in fact, that some brands have achieved rock-star status thanks to their impeccable sound quality and attention to detail. Gibson, Martin, and Fender are all well-known names. But a guitar is only as good as the person who makes it, i.e., the luthier, and while some of them have gained name recognition — Les Paul and Santa Barbara’s own Seymour Duncan, for example — there are many producers of acoustic art whose monikers do not achieve worldwide recognition, except perhaps among guitar devotees.
Thanks to the Santa Barbara Acoustic Instrument Celebration (SBAIC), however, stringed instrument enthusiasts have the opportunity to meet acclaimed luthiers when the nonprofit hosts its second annual artisan guitar show, taking place Friday-Sunday, August 25-27, at Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort and offering an immersive experience starting on Thursday, August 24, that includes concerts, classes, exhibits, seminars, demos, and a benefit auction and concert at venues around town. “The Celebration is a unique opportunity to meet world-renowned as well as up-and-coming luthiers,” said event organizer Kevin Gillies. It’s also an opportunity for folks to “audition and purchase fine handmade instruments in a wide range of styles and price points … And everyone who attends gets a chance to win a handmade Sexauer guitar,” he added.
The inspiration for the Celebration has its roots in a guitar festival created decades ago by Charles Fox, Tom Ribbecke, and Todd Taggart called the Healdsburg Guitar Festival. Held in the tiny Northern California town, it was unique in that “the public could meet directly with a number of luthiers,” explained Gillies, in an interview with Guitar Connoisseur magazine. It was the “gold standard” of guitar fests, and SBIAC’s goal is to “continue the tradition and further it with information, education and world-class music.”
The four-day festival kicks off on Thursday with a Guitar Summit & Celebration dinner show at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club (5:30-7:30pm), featuring illustrious fingerpickers Kinloch Nelson, Michael Chapdelaine, and Sean McGowan presenting a guitars-in-the-round-style evening that includes myriad music genres such as jazz, blues, folk, popular, and Americana. At 8 p.m., national fingerstyle champions British-born Richard Smith, who can seamlessly switch between fingerpicking and flatpicking, and Tim Sparks, whose résumé includes opening for Dolly Parton and collaborating with composer John Zorn, will duel it out on the SOhO stage.
On Friday at 5:30 p.m. at SOhO, catch slack-key legends Ken Emerson and Jim “Kimo” West perform, followed by an acoustic showcase featuring Doug Young, Mark Hanson, and Teja Gerken (7:30-9pm). Or head over to Center Stage Theater to catch Michael Chapdelaine and Tony McManus perform.
Luthier Ervin Somogyi will also be in attendance.
An integral part of SBAIC’s mission is to defray costs for those wishing to learn and keep alive acoustic instrument music. To that end, the SBAIC holds a benefit concert at which folks can help add to the coffers of the nonprofit’s education arm, Celebration Lutherie Education Fund. In 2016, the Celebration raised $3,400, which provided workshops to more than 200 guitar players, including free clinics to students. This year, SBAIC has raised the stakes and is shooting to raise $20,000. Some of the monies will be given to CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of S.B., to provide free lessons to foster kids and visually impaired students, and to Notes for Notes, providing guitars to each of its studios around the county and thus offering access to instruments for its participants.
This year’s fundraising event is the Fine Guitar Benefit Auction, which takes place at Lobero Theatre on Saturday and features a performance by guitar virtuoso David Lindley. The auction portion of the evening begins at 7 p.m., followed by the concert at 8 p.m. Other Celebration musical treats include buskers at various points on State Street, who will regale Santa Barbarans and tourists alike on Friday and Saturday, between 5 and 6 p.m. Don’t miss homegrown musicians Jackson Gillies, Teen Star 2016 winner, and percussive guitar player Bruce Goldish.
In addition to the live music aspects, the Celebration offers a plethora of educational events. “There’s an underground history behind the development of contemporary acoustic instruments that is poorly documented or understood,” Kevin Gillies said. Therefore, the learning aspect of the festival is offered to enlighten folks on the intricacies of making a top-of-the-line acoustic instrument.
The Acoustic Instrument Celebration takes place Thursday-Sunday, August 24-27, at Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort and other locations around town. For the complete schedule of concerts, seminars, and other events, see sbaic.com.