Sixth Annual Chet Atkins Tribute
- Article by: Derek Medeiros, Photos by: Alison Hasbach, TrueFire
- Posted: 07/15/2011
At the Factory at Franklin, the sea of tables set up across the dimly lit room were all packed with onlookers eagerly awaiting the arrival of the internationally known emcee for the evening, world-class guitarist Tommy Emmanuel.
Taking the stage with a bike horn in hand, Emmanuel greeted the crowd, introducing himself as the Musical Corrector, as opposed to Master of Ceremonies. With this responsibility, he said, came the authority to interrupt any song with a piercing honk if any of the five artists played something Chet Atkins wouldn’t approve of. However, the only time he exercised this authority was during his own set.
The night started off with Brooks Robertson, who said he hitchhiked from a vineyard in Eugene, Oregon, to attend the event. This 22-year-old guitar virtuoso utilized a custom painted Godin Multiac Jazz Guitar, a series that combines a classical guitar headstock atop an electric guitar mimicking body and could be labeled a classical/electric guitar hybrid.
Amazingly enough, Robertson’s finger picking abilities were even more enthralling than his instrument, and one of several high points in his set was a cover of Gershwin’s jazz standard “Summertime.” As he softly crooned “and the livin’ is easy,” it became obvious to every onlooker that his intricate guitar plucking skills also fell into that category.
Prominent Kentucky guitar player Pat Kirtley was the first to introduce the audience to the Endless Road Strings, a quartet of unprecedented string players from Lexington. Playing alongside Kirtley, they proved that great bourbon isn’t the only thing to come out of the Bluegrass State.
The Endless Road Strings, who have accompanied Emmanuel on tours through Europe in recent years, served as the formidable backup band for the night.
The next performer, Muriel Anderson, took the stage with elegance and grandeur, a white carnation in her hair and a towering harp guitar on her shoulder.
This was by no means her first rodeo. Becoming the first woman to win the National Finger Style Guitar Championship, she has received compliments from legends such as Les Paul who once said of her, “She plays like we all wish to play!”
“A Baker’s Dozen,” a masterpiece written in the generally unexplored time signature of 13/8 (hence the name), caused the audience to drop their jaws far enough to potentially shovel in thirteen bagels at once. Anderson’s flawless execution and calm demeanor made it nearly impossible for the audience to blink.
That said, she soon cured every dry eye with “View From Space,” inspired by a NASA shuttle launch. This angelic composition was ornamented with fleeting harmonics and an alluring melody, making it one of the most memorable performances of the evening.
Anderson was no doubt a tough act to follow, but after a gracious exit, Emmanuel and John Knowles emerged from behind the curtain. During his life, Atkins awarded four musicians the honorary title of “Certified Guitar Player” (CGP), and half of those musicians now approached the microphone.
Knowles is an extremely accomplished musician, as CGP isn’t the only suffix he has to add to his signature. With a doctorate in physics, his full name is “Dr. John Knowles Ph.D., CGP.”
Watching these men at work was quite a sight, as each knew exactly what the other was thinking and effortlessly played off the other’s emotions. As one took the lead, the other followed in perfect harmony, backing off to share the spotlight.
The first thing people generally notice about Knowles is the way he holds his guitar – with the neck at a 70-degree skyward angle. If he wasn’t nearing 70 and completely engrossed in the country music scene, he would have a good chance of being labeled a rock star.
Knowles explained that he always loved discovering new musical concepts on the fret board, if only to let Atkins in on them. He said Atkins would listen intently to him and then show him a better way to do what he had just done.
After bringing down the house with a few of Atkins’ old tunes, Knowles turned and said, “Tommy, it’s hot in here. How about a little Christmas music to cool us off a bit?” They immediately jumped into a medley of Christmas carols, Emmanuel finally pulling out the bike horn for “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”
The two meshed impeccably together, and the spontaneity of the song choices made it all the more entertaining. Knowles can nestle into any environment and make his home, and he did just that as Emmanuel left the stage and the Endless Road Strings emerged yet again to accompany him.
Emmanuel, clearly no stranger to the stage or to his guitar, came out one last time to greet the audience. Knowles remarked that, as an older Chet Atkins once told him, “You’re young and fit; you can go anywhere. I’m going to Cracker Barrel.”
When Emmanuel was growing up in Australia as a young, aspiring guitarist, he sent Atkins a letter, and it was Atkins’ response to that letter that inspired Emmanuel to become the artist he is today.
Although he said he loves immersing himself in collaborations with other musicians, Emmanuel is in essence a one-man band. The showman is known to beat on his guitar for added percussion and scratch on the body until the wood finish wears off.
Many would consider it nearly impossible to receive a standing ovation for the first song of the evening, but Emmanuel got the crowd to its feet from square one with an incredibly thought-out tribute medley.
He played a couple tracks off his and Atkins’ Grammy-nominated album, The Day Finger Pickers Took Over The World. The two recorded the album together not long before Atkins’ death. In fact, the title track off the album was done in one take, as Atkins told Tommy he only had one take left in him.
Chet Atkins, the man responsible for the often sought out Nashville sound, died June 30, 2001. While he can never be replaced, he can be honored and admired. This concert is an annual must-see for any serious guitarist or music lover, which explains why it sold out so quickly.
For those looking to catch a glimpse of Tommy Emmanuel in his element, he will be in Nashville playing at the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society Convention at the Music City Sheraton Hotel and Convention Center Saturday night.
To purchase tickets, visit chetsociety.com/convention.html.