The Best Guitarist You Never Heard Of: Save “Awesome” For Beppe Gambetta

After I had the honor and pleasure of opening, with two fellow local musicians, for Beppe Gambetta’s modest Lopez Island show, several friends of mine told me I was “awesome.”

Thanks, guys, but seriously–let’s apply that “A-word” more carefully, shall we?

If you’ve heard of Beppe Gambetta, good for you. I hadn’t, till he toured out here a few years ago. Since then I’ve become familiar with the delightful story of this 11 year-old Italian kid who somehow got his hands on a Doc Watson record, over in Genova, and had his life changed by the ol’ flatpicker from Deep Gap, North Carolina. Beppe, with zero background in anything but traditional Italian music, started practicing, and kept on practicing…till he learned to do THIS:  (note–keep watching; he speeds up as he goes!)

If you check out Beppe’s website and his music, you’ll see that he actually does way more than “just” American-style bluegrass flatpicking. He plays traditional and modern Italian music, composes his own melodies, and sings in four different languages. 

Check Beppe’s tour schedule (he and his delightful wife Federica tour all but 100 days per year–year after year!). If he’s playing anywhere near you, get tickets IMMEDIATELY. And save up your use of the word “awesome” till you see him play live.

Grazie.

 

Music as Short Story: Why Mark Knopfler is Still My Guitar Hero

Before you ask, “Mark who?” I’ll refresh your memory:  Dire Straits. You know–“Money for Nothin”? “Sultans of Swing”? That band. That guy. Those guitar riffs. He’s always been my favorite singer-songwriter–and not just because his weird last name is nearly identical to the one I was born with (Klopfer–but that connection helps).

I clearly remember the first time I heard Dire Straits. I was a junior in high school, back in 1978, cleaning up my room, when “Sultans of Swing” came on the radio. I stopped dead and asked aloud, “Who’s that?” Maybe it was the guitar licks, maybe the unusual lyrics: a song about under-appreciated jazz musicians in the time of rock ‘n’ roll? Whatever. I was hooked. I still am.

This weekend I got to see him live (for only the second time), and my admiration’s only grown. First of all, he’s superbly professional. He walks onstage with no fanfare and no warm-up band, and plays a straight 140-minute set with only one break to introduce his fellow musicians, most of whom have been playing with him for 20-35 years. Secondly, he’s a guitar master, someone who single-handedly converted me to the idea that an electric guitar could make music as complex, nuanced, and, well, classical as a violin.

And then there are his songs. MK tends to write from the point of view of working men, in an astounding array of roles. Off the top of my head, I can think of Knopfler songs in the POV of a trucker, a sailor, a boxer, a racecar driver, a farmer, a bricklayer, a ballad-writer from the 1800s, a pawnbroker/Holocaust survivor, a painter, and a sculptor. Some of his songs are from the mind of the bad guy: a snake-oil salesman, a mobster, a bank robber. He’s written songs about historical figures: Elvis Presley, Sonny Liston, even Mason & Dixon. One of my favorites, “Baloney Again,” presents the perspective of a Black, staunchly Christian musician on the road in the segregated South.

Ironically, Knopfler’s most popular mid-90s numbers, like “Money For Nothin,” are my least favorite, but even that one’s misunderstood. If all you hear is “money for nothin’ and your chicks for free,” you might think MK’s a chauvinist pig, when in fact that song’s written from the POV of a working stiff, who has to “install microwave ovens/custom kitchen delivery,” complaining about rich rock stars.

Songs as short stories, with a range of instruments like Irish pipes and accordion playing background to jaw-dropping guitar-picking? That’s why MK’s my guy.

I am not the type of audience member to take pictures, much less video, during a concert. I prefer to be fully in the moment. But if you want to hear for yourself, this shaky video captures MK’s finale song pretty well: “Piper to the End.”

Favorite Knopfler song you’d like to share? Or do you have your own guitar–or piano, or whatever–hero or heroine? Tell me why.

 

 

If The Big-Girl Panties Fit…

It’s concert time again.

A quick retrospective:

2011, Chicken Biscuit: “Which end of the mic do I sing into?”

2012, Gretchen Wing & Chicken Biscuit: “Oh, I get to sing a couple of my songs too? OK…but YOU introduce ’em, I don’t want to talk.”

2013, Gretchen Wing & Chicken Biscuit: “What do you mean, Bill’s going out of town? Who’s going to be emcee? I don’t know any jokes! Oh, s–t…”

2014, Gretchen Wing & Friends: “OK, everyone. At tonight’s rehearsal, I’d like the musicians to be there at 6 so they can get all their stuff ready. Singers, come whenever you need to in order to be ready to start right at 6:30…”

Ah, if only it were that simple. Yes, my “career” as local singer-songwriter-performer has evolved to the point where I think of this weekend’s show as “my” concert. Yes, I am in charge of the set list and the rehearsal schedule. Yes, my face is the only one on the poster.

GW

But oh my, do I have a long way to go before I can be said to be “putting on” a concert! Here’s my To Do list for 2015…just in case I do this again:

1. Start rehearsals in June instead of August.

2. On second thought, start rehearsals in July, but schedule the darn concert for November when there aren’t gazillion other things going on around here.

3. Find the “sound man” with the best reputation in the community, and secure his services several months in advance. Bribe him with pie.

4. Provide binders for all musicians so they can keep track of their music and notes.

5. Fill the freezer with treats for rehearsals, so I can grab ’em and go. (No, I will never let go of my need to feed people.)

I have other resolutions, but I won’t bore you with them. This is just my way of saying: Yes. OK. I get it. If you’re new at something, you can enjoy being helpless and having everyone do stuff for you…once. Once you get halfway good at something and want to run it yourself, be ready to RUN it. No whining.

(Courtesy someecards.com)

(Courtesy someecards.com)

Don’t get me wrong–I am totally looking forward to, and totally humbled by, this chance to share my music with my community. I will be one happy woman on concert night. But for now–I gotta go bake cookies. And I still need to find another joke. And does anyone have any extra binders?

I would love to hear your stories of transition from bystander to administrator of…anything. What lessons did YOU learn? Anything I can steal?

Confessions of an Imperfectionist, Part II

I have finished another landscape quilt, and I’m bursting with pride. Please, look at my pictures! But don’t look too close.

004 (5)

“The Enchantments”–based on my Happy Place in the central Cascades.

005 (4)

Detail of the bottom. I like to have the picture overflow out of the border.

007 (4)

A look at the variety of stitching on the back. I try to match the quilting with the picture.

About a year and a half ago, I blogged about my imperfectionism as it relates to quilts. Here’s what I said:

I’m a lousy carpenter. So I never thought I’d make it as a quilter either, and I never tried. Till I discovered landscape quilts.

Landscape quilting is just what it sounds like: you create a landscape, like a painter, substituting appliqued cloth for paint. The effect can be as realistic or impressionistic as you choose. Me, I’m all about the impressionism. Who cares if that flower has eight petals in real life? On my quilt, it gets five, and it’s still pretty.

Nice and sloppy, just like nature.Another way landscape quilting is like impressionist painting is in its wonderful, inherent sloppiness. Who cares if my stitches are uneven, or if I miss an edge here or there which might fray? Nature’s full of ragged edges, weird curves, asymmetry. It’s a gorgeous slop-fest out there! Too much precision = unnatural-looking landscape…or so says I.

Am I making a virtue of necessity? Cheering myself up for being lazy, not to mention bad at arithmetic?

You betcha. But hey: I’m quilting, aren’t I?

 

Now, a year and a half later, my quilts are no less imperfect. Or no more perfect. And I’m still okay with that…in quilts. But in writing? Good enough has never been good enough. That’s why I write draft after draft, that’s why I’m still re-re-re-re-re-revising Headwinds even when it’s in its final proofs.

And lo and behold, with my next community concert looming in a week and a half, I’m starting to apply that perfectionism to musical performance.

You: “What do you mean, starting to? You mean you’ve been performing up till now without caring how good you are?”

Me: “Nnnnyeah….well…not exactly. See, when I first got onstage, it was really kind of a lark. I didn’t think of myself as a “real” performer. So what if I couldn’t nail the hard chords? Isn’t that what the other musicians were there for–to cover for me while I distracted the audience with my singing?”

You: “You’re really buying this?”

Me: “Well…the alternative was to practice a WHOLE LOT more than I wanted to. So…yeah.”

You: “Wow.”

Me: “I know, right? I sat on a stool for my performances because I’d never used a strap with my guitar and I didn’t want to learn. I used a music stand in case I forgot the words or chords. I glanced at my fingers all the time, even when that meant singing away from the mike.”

You: “So is there something you’d like to say to your audiences now?”

Me: “I’m SORRY! I’ve upped my standards. Come to my concert on October 26th and you’ll see.”

GW

You: “Yeah. But you still could have brushed your hair for the promo poster.”

Me: ***sigh…***

OK, all you fellow imperfectionists: where do you draw YOUR line? Where do you let yourself slide, and where do you NEVER let yourself slide? Are you trying to work on sliding less, or sliding more? I am very interested to hear.

 

 

 

The Gift of Confidence: “Gretchen Wing with Chicken Biscuit” Now Feels…Legit

meThis is what I’m doing tonight:

This is my second annual “Gretchen Wing With Chicken Biscuit” concert. The year before we were simply Chicken Biscuit. Then I started writing songs, and something changed.The story’s a little longer than that, but I’ve told it before.

Right now, I just want to compare two Gretchens:

October 2012
Lopez Community Member: “So, you’re giving a concert?”
Gretchen: “Yeah, I know, it feels so weird, I can’t believe I’m actually asking people to pay money to come hear me, I’m just, you know, I’ve never done anything like this before.”

November 2013
Lopez Community Member: “So hey, another concert?”
Gretchen: “Yup! So excited! Hope you’re coming!”

What changed? I’m only a marginally better guitar player than I was a year ago, and I have a long way to go before I reach the level of the wonderful Biscuits who play with me. My voice is probably a little stronger, from a year’s worth of singing.

But the main ingredient of change is CONFIDENCE. By now enough people have told me I am a good singer and a good songwriter that I have finally stopped thinking they are all extra-nice folks with low standards.

I believe I’m good: therefore I am. WHOA. Talk about a life-changing Blinding Flash of the Obvious.

I could probably run with this theme, and who knows where it would take me? But I’m kinda in a hurry here…gotta walk the dog and get the house ready for the post-performance party before heading into town for set-up and sound-checks. (I meant to post this yesterday, but our internet went bye-bye…so it goes!)

So I’ll close with the obvious question: Have YOU had an experience where someone telling you you could do something made it happen? Are you having such an experience now? Please tell me all about it!