Richard Thompson’s back in town, running his second annual Frets and Refrains Acoustic Guitar and Songwriting Camp this week at the Full Moon Resort in Big Indian. The five-day stretch of master classes – taught by RT himself, performing sons Teddy and Jack, fellow British guitar wizard Martin Simpson, Woodstock blues guitar maven Happy Traum, singer/songwriters Sloan Wainwright and Shawn Colvin, along with Simon Tassano, Bobby Eichorn and Zak Hobbs – has been fully booked for many months, alas. But those of us who didn’t sign up in time still get to hear Richard Thompson “and Friends,” including some of his fellow faculty, perform for the adoring masses this Friday night, June 28, at the Bearsville Theater.
Well, maybe not “masses.” Music writers never tire of scratching their heads over the failure of the bulk of mainstream rock fans to catch on to the magic that Thompson has been putting out since surfacing as the 17-year-old lead guitarist of Fairport Convention way back in 1967. We may congratulate ourselves at being among the cognoscenti, but being part of a too-small cult gets old after a certain number of decades – especially when entities like Rolling Stone magazine keep listing RT among the Top 20 Best Guitarists of All Time, and nobody listens.
Thompson has also been recognized with MOJO magazine’s Les Paul Award, the Americana Music Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award, Britain’s Ivor Novello Award, an honorary doctorate from Aberdeen University in and even an Order of the British Empire (OBE) for Services to Music. In fact, if you took the people near the tops of the Best Acoustic and Best Electric Guitarists lists and averaged them out, he’d almost certainly qualify as Best Guitarist, Period, owing to his extraordinary facility on both. The guy plays as if he has ten fingers on each hand. That’s not to mention his unmistakable tone: Lots of axe-slingers try to sound like Richard Thompson, but none quite succeeds.
And in addition to being a guitarists’ guitarist, he’s also renowned as an intelligent and versatile songwriters’ songwriter who can slide deftly from acid satire to sweet romanticism, from quirky humor to blackest despair without skipping a beat. His gigs at medium-sized venues like Bearsville nearly always sell out, but he has still never really had a “hit,” still doesn’t make great gobs of money, and almost anywhere I go, most people still look blank when I rave about him. The result is that longtime RT fans burn with an almost-evangelical zeal to explain to the unenlightened what they’re missing.
This is your chance, pilgrim: Astonishingly, as of presstime, some tickets are still available to Friday’s show at the Bearsville Theater. But I wouldn’t hesitate too long to make my move, if I were you. The true believers might beat you to the last spot. Tickets are going for $55 for Golden Circle seating, $35 for reserved seating and $25 for standing room in the lounge/bar area. You can purchase them at https://ssl.radiowoodstock.com/upload/index.php?route=product/product&path=54&product_id=469.
If the show is sold out by the time you read this, I recommend getting your hands on RT’s newest CD release, Electric, since that’s the crop of songs that he has been touting on his most recent tour. Written in what he has been calling a “funk/folk” vein to highlight the strengths of his “Celtic power trio” that includes longtime collaborators Taras Prodaniuk on bass and Michael Jerome on drums, they were recorded at Buddy Miller’s home studio in Nashville with some help from Stuart Duncan on fiddle and vocals on one haunting acoustic cut from the great Alison Krauss.
The lineup this Friday will be different, though, so expect them to mix it up a bit. And expect at least one extended solo that will leave you breathless and astonished that one person can make a guitar sound like that with only three movable joints per finger. Just soak it up while we still have this giant living among us, and then go on out and tell someone else about him who doesn’t yet know.
Richard Thompson and Friends, Friday, June 28, 9 p.m., $55/$35/$25, Bearsville Theater, 291 Tinker Street, Woodstock; (845) 679-4406, www.bearsvilletheater.com.