It’s RT Week in the Hudson Valley, and fans have reason to rejoice. It kicked off last Saturday, as you know if you were lucky enough to attend the Clearwater Festival. The audience sang along on the catchy chorus of “Johnny’s Far Away” with a gusto that would have done Pete Seeger proud as Richard Thompson made his first-ever appearance at Croton Point Park.
And now the British guitar god (Number 69 on the Rolling Stone Top 100 list) and songwriters’ songwriter (still not a household word at last report, no matter how many bands have done cover versions of “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” or “Dimming of the Day”) is ensconced for the week at the Full Moon Resort in Big Indian. There, for the Frets and Refrains Acoustic Guitar and Songwriting Camp’s third year running, a few dozen lucky students are taking master classes from Thompson, his son Jack and grandson Zak Hobbs, Shawn Colvin, Darden Smith, Martin Simpson, Sloan Wainwright, Happy Traum, Simon Tassano and Bobby Eichorn.
For those who still need a refresher, Richard Thompson co-founded the seminal folk/rock band Fairport Convention while still a teenager in the mid-’60s. Legendary record producer/concert promoter Joe Boyd picked them up after hearing them play in an English club, purely on the strength of RT’s already-distinctive guitar work. “Richard was the key,” Boyd wrote in his memoir White Bicycles. “He can imitate any style, and often does, but is instantly identifiable. In his playing you can hear the evocation of the Scottish piper’s drone and the melody of the chanter, as well as echoes of Barney Kessell’s and James Burton’s guitars and Jerry Lee Lewis’ piano. But no blues clichés.”
Fairport was still doing Byrds and Joni Mitchell covers at the time, but started electrifying traditional English and Scottish ballads once singer Sandy Denny joined the band, spawning the British “trad” style of folk/rock. Thompson went on to perform as a duo with ex-wife Linda Thompson for a decade, followed by a long solo career, influencing many a rocker along the way. He has won Ivor Novello, Orville H. Gibson, Americana Music Association and BBC Lifetime Achievement awards, an honorary doctorate and even an OBE, but somehow never a Grammy.
As a songwriter he’s known for his dark humor, balancing a sometimes-grim worldview with acerbic wit, leavened by the occasional achingly tender love song and punctuated with scathing social commentary. His guitar work combines a limber, lightning-fast hybrid picking style with oddball tunings for a sound that no one else seems able to replicate (though many try). He’s equally adept at electric and acoustic guitar, but will favor the Lowden acoustic over his signature turquoise Stratocaster when the man in the black beret caps off his weeklong residency with a live show at the Bearsville Theater this Saturday evening, June 28 at 9 p.m.
Though it’s guaranteed to be packed with Frets and Refrains campers (all those wearily grinning people with blistery fingers), there may still be room at the concert to accommodate a few more true believers in the world’s most underappreciated veteran rock star. Expect some of the other camp instructors and maybe a few local luminaries to sit in. Tickets go for $25, $35, $55 and $75 and can be obtained by calling the Bearsville Theater box office at (845) 679-4406 or WDST Radio Woodstock at (845) 679-7600 or by visiting www.ticketfly.com/event/547043-evening-richard-thompson-woodstock.
Radio Woodstock presents: An Evening with Richard Thompson/Solo Acoustic, Saturday, June 28, 9 p.m., $25/$35/$55/$75, Bearsville Theater, 291 Tinker Street, Woodstock, (845) 679-4406, www.bearsvilletheater.com.