In these post-packaged years when people no longer buy media in piece goods but prefer electronic sources…a pretty decent sized audience still prefers good old hand made music on wooden instruments, and fine players can be heard nestled into the niche with the misnomer ‘Americana.’ And we can trace the lines of the great flatpickers back to Doc Watson, who first began picking fiddle tunes on the steel string acoustic guitar back in the 1950s, and who begat the great Clarence White, and thus Tony Rice and Dan Crary, Norman Blake, Russ Barenberg, who have carried the lineage onward to players like David Grier and Bryan Sutton, and younger generations who can blind and dazzle you with their prowess.
And so it happens that another who surely belongs in the pantheon, but with a different sensibility, a European feel, will be performing in our midst when Beppe Gambetta takes the stage at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, July 10 in the Conservation Hall at the Ashokan Center, 477 Beaverkill Road, Olivebridge. He’ll also stay around for the week following for the Center’s Acoustic Guitar Camp, featuring world class players giving workshops on gypsy jazz and swing, slide, bottleneck blues, swing and ragtime; fingerstyle blues, alternate tunings and a host of other styles played on the flattop boxes.
The literature states “Starting from the early studies of his American mentor Doc Watson, Beppe brought his flatpicking approach to a more modern development of plectrum guitar style, based on complex strumming, crosspicking and the use of open tunings.”
“We’ve became sort of transnational,” says Gambetta, by phone a few days ago, through a most musical Italian accent. “We live five months in Europe and seven here. We go back and forth every couple of months, try to get the best of both sides. We enjoy our friends in the musical scenes. But it takes a lot of energy, I have to play a lot of notes…
“After the concert, I will continue to be at Ashokan for the guitar workshop. You meet with the community of guitar aficionados. This is important for me because I wrote a big book, the flatpicking source book. In English, it came out from Music Sales. I tried to put in a book, not only all the usual technical exercises and suggestions, but I tried to talk about the passion and love for music. There is not a precise recipe to talk about loving music but you can try with perspective and stories you can tell. It’s a challenge, a big book. Everything you do with passion…I hope it will be received with enthusiasm.”
We talk about his style of flatpicking and how it almost sounds like a fingerpicked style, veered away from what we’ve come to know, coming from Bluegrass and the mountains.
“It comes about the fact that in Europe it was really difficult to be a professional musician playing American flat picking style. To move around in Europe with a band was not simple. So I decided to follow the example of Dan Crary and Norman Blake and now in more modern time David Grier, sometimes Doc Watson, the father of flatpicking. So I decided to develop the style that was started by these great fathers of the music. It’s a big challenge because the pick is just one source, so it’s more difficult to generate the arpeggios. I had to develop my own style to make me capable to be a solo flatpicker. I have a lot of freedom to move in every direction I want. Technically in the style you have the single notes and the strumming, and the possibility to do cross picking, to do arpeggions. It’s a style you sometimes find in Celtic music. Down, down up technique. I sort of invented some new techniques, sort of a harp style or floating.”
Gambetta also has a deep connection to Woodstock.
“For me, particularly Bill Keith was the first American artist I could see in Europe, the first to bring traditional Bluegrass to Europe. I guess it was 35 or 40 years ago. He was courageous, he put together his band with other Woodstock players. I love to talk about him, because for the whole European scene he was the ambassador.
“I admire Bill Keith so much for his new invention. He was the first who was able to move on from Scruggs style. The whole scene of Woodstock was the first example of this fabulous synthesis, taking the old style and moving it on to modernity. Keith was strongly rooted in the traditional style and taking it to another place.
“Also John Herald, was a fantastic picker, with Greenbriar Boys, but used his knowledge of traditional style, wrote unique songs. I love generally when songs are immortal, when they express some concept that touches people a long time after. And this is the pure form of poetry. Not every artist has this capability. I think John Herald was one of the artists that had this sensibility.” Just last year Gambetta and Tony McManus recorded a beautiful version of the Herald song, “Slightly Go Blind.”
“That’s why I’m excited to do this concert in this area. Give a little tiny modest celebration of these great artists. Bringing the roots to modernity to a new level and expressing our hope for society through art and music.
“I was not only friends with them, but also with Artie Traum,” he sighs. “A lot of artists that are not around any more, but influenced me and touched me deeply.
“I also know Happy, we met on different occasions in Europe…” Gambetta has done two instructional videos for Happy Traum’s Homespun Music Instruction.
Besides being excited about his Woodstock connections, Gambetta also loves to bring his own music to the table. You will not be disappointed.
“In my concert I will play a development of my artistic work. After falling in love with the American roots, I decided I would play with my European roots. I had to leave some influences in what I play and I went deeper into roots of both sides of the ocean. I had good response with an album with David Grisman, about Italian American immigrants and their roots. Now I have a new systhesis, American roots with European passion, sort of following a journey through my life.
“I always use some special tunings. In the beginning being a solo payer, I use sort of half regular tunings and half special tuning.. DADGAD [an open guitar tuning] brings you to a cliché. It’s good to play variations so the sound is not the stock of the cliché.
“I love to use open tunings because I’m a solo player and it’s really nice to turn the page after every tune and change the sound. And with open tunings I’ve invented special chords.”
Gambetta’s excitement is contagious. “Everytime you play in a new place you are meeting with the community. Though I have so many friends, I never played in the area of Woodstock. I’m particularly happy.”
If you’re not sure, you can check him out in numerous Youtube videos. And then you will be.
Beppe Gambetta will perform a concert at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, July 10 in the Conservation Hall at the Ashokan Center, 477 Beaverkill Road, Olivebridge. Tickets are $15 for advanced general admission ($20 day of show); $10 Youth Ages 13-25 and Seniors; $5 Ages 5-12; Under 5 Free. See https://ashokancenter.org/ashokan-center-events/ for ticket information, or write firstname.lastname@example.org or call 845-657-8333.
For more information on the Acoustic Guitar Camp, July 11-15 at the Ashokan Center, see https://ashokancenter.org/.