When we think of “looking at art,” what we usually have in mind is stuff with no utilitarian purpose. But each of us could probably think of a category or two of useful objects that we’d go out of our way to admire from a purely aesthetic perspective. The antique wooden boats that congregate on the Rondout each year are one example that immediately springs to this correspondent’s mind.
And it’s probably not coincidental that another category of items that one can use, or just look at with great pleasure, is also the product of master craftsmanship in the working of fine wood: lovingly handmade acoustic musical instruments, especially those of the stringed class. Whether you can play them or not, there will be plenty of such works of art to entertain the eye as well as the ear – not to mention bring pangs of acquisitive longing to the heart – at the fifth annual Woodstock Invitational Luthiers’ Showcase, returning this weekend to the Bearsville Theater and Utopia Soundstage.
Running October 26 through 28, the Woodstock Invitational is an alternative guitar show, featuring contemporary, handmade acoustic guitars and stringed instruments, exhibited by their makers and described by promoters of the art of lutherie as “a low-key, laid-back event for the community of acoustic stringed-instrument builders, players, collectors and aficionados.” Fine handmade instruments such as these are not usually available in music stores or other retail environments, and the Showcase is a rare opportunity for the public to see, play and experience the instruments, meet with their makers, discuss custom options and one-of-a-kind creations and buy or order a dream guitar from dozens of master builders, all gathered together in one place. Nylon-stringed classical and flamenco style guitars, steel-string flattop and archtop guitars, crossovers and hybrids, resonators, mandolins, banjos, ukuleles and other stringed instruments from around the world will be on display, many built from exotic woods and adorned with gorgeous decorative inlays. Among the 50-or-so exhibitors from around the country will be legendary names in the art of instrument-building, such as Linda Manzer, Michihiro Matsuda and Ervin Somogyi. There will also be tonewood dealers, parts and tool suppliers, string and accessories manufacturers, publications and instructional materials, lutherie services and lutherie schools. The centerpiece of the event is a Special Exhibit of rare and significant antique, historic, vintage and contemporary instruments loaned by major collectors and institutions: a mini-museum of the luthier’s art.
The event kicks off on Friday, October 26 with a Tonewood Festival running from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., billed as a “pre-Showcase shopping opportunity” and featuring dealers in components like top sets, backs and sides, neck blanks and fingerboards for folks who want to build their own instruments. It’ll be housed in the Utopia Soundstage Vendors’ Annex, and admission is free.
The main event gets underway on Saturday and Sunday, October 27 and 28 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. General admission costs $20 per day; a two-day pass goes for $30. There will be continuous live acoustic music in the Bar/Lounge area of the Bearsville Theater on both days, included in the price of admission. Respected musicians including names as famous as John Abercrombie and Bucky Pizzarelli will be demonstrating the acoustics of instruments from the various participating luthier shops. See ulsterpub.staging.wpengineinvitational.com/music-and-events-2012 for the full performance schedule.
On both days at 2 p.m., Dick Boak, a 37-year employee of C. F. Martin & Co., will present a special program on “The Evolution of the Acoustic Guitar,” showcasing examples of rare and priceless instruments from the Martin Museum collection, along with a slideshow and historical overview of Martin Guitars and the development of the acoustic guitar in America. This program will be open free of charge to the general public and take place at the C. F. Martin Presentation Tent next to the Bearsville Theater.
Advance reservations are highly recommended if you want to take one of the six different instructional clinics with master guitarists being offered for $35 each at the Bear Café over Saturday and Sunday. Visit ulsterpub.staging.wpengineinvitational.com/clinics.html for the workshop schedule.
With all these big-league pickers in town, there will naturally be concerts in the evenings. On Saturday at the Woodstock Playhouse, beginning at 8 p.m., the annual “String Sampler” concert will be held, featuring Cindy Cashdollar & Steve James, Julian Lage, the Haig Manoukian Trio and Al Petteway. Tickets go for $40 and $30. On Sunday night beginning at 8 p.m., there will be a free Post-Showcase After-Show Party, Show and Showcase at the Colony Café. Performers will include Kinloch Nelson, Sharon Klein, George Worthmore and other Woodstock Invitational participants, plus the Left-Over Luthiers, local notables and special guests.
The Woodstock Invitational Luthiers’ Showcase takes place Saturday and Sunday, October 27 and 28 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Bearsville Theater and Utopia Soundstage, located at 291/293 Tinker Street (Route 212) just west of Woodstock. Ticket prices are $20 per day, $30 for a two-day pass. Order advance tickets at www.bearsvilletheater.com or by calling (845) 679-4406. The Showcase will be preceded by the free Tonewood Festival on Friday, October 26 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Also free is the Martin Guitars presentation “The Evolution of the Acoustic Guitar” at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in the C. F. Martin Presentation Tent. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with “Clinic Reservation” in the subject line to reserve your space in any of the guitar clinics being offered on Saturday or Sunday. Doors open at 7 p.m. for the 8 p.m. String Sampler concert on Saturday at the Woodstock Playhouse, located at 103 Mill Hill Road. Call (845) 679-6900 or visit ulsterpub.staging.wpengineplayhouse.org to reserve tickets, priced at $40 and $30. Admission is free to the Post-Showcase After-Show Party at the Colony Café located at 22 Rock City Road in Woodstock, beginning at 8 p.m.