Whether you’re a player, or just a fancier of a fine art, the guitars at the 8th annual Woodstock Invitational Luthiers Showcase will make your eyeballs pop out. You can hold them, touch them, stroke the strings, wistfully desire one or more for yourself (and you can give yourself or someone you love and incredible present by buying one) but the hardest part may actually be choosing favorites from the work of almost 70 of the finest acoustic guitar makers the world has to offer.
It all happens at the Bearsville Theater (291 Tinker Street, Woodstock) and environs over the weekend, Friday, October 21 to Sunday October 23, with the doors opening at 11 a.m. and closing at 6 p.m.
Kicking off the proceedings, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Thursday, October 20 is a Tonewood Festival, displaying the wood that is used to make these treasures.
Enhancing the proceedings is music, in an unending flow, coming from fine instruments played by a dazzling array of musicians.
And topping the bill is The String Sampler Concert, 8 p.m. Saturday, October 22 at the Woodstock Playhouse, 103 Mill Hill Road, featuring Dobroist Jerry Douglas, winner of 14 Grammy awards, who has played on over 1600 recordings. Special guests for the show are the incredible jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli (now 91 years old) and the Ed Laub Duo. Plus, the legendary French fingerpicker Pierre Bensusan. Word has it that Douglas has invited Woodstockers Cindy Cashdollar, Happy Traum and Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams to join him.
Baker Rorick, founder and the soul of the festival, remembers the first event “at the Colony. This whole thing came out of a private guitar party in 2008. I was writing an article about Ken Parker, radical archtop guitar maker for Acoustic Guitar Magazine. He asked me to show his archtops, three pounds, light as air guitars, to the local builders and players community. Other people like (Woodstock luthier) Joe Veillette soon found out what we were up to so we wound up with eight guitar makers and each chipped in $100 bucks and we rented the Colony for a Sunday afternoon and had a little party by invitation only. No charge or anything. We got some pumpkin pies and fresh apple cider and people came to play. It’s very grass root thing.”
Veillette has been at all of the Festivals, “I really love the Showcase, it’s a great chance to hang with other builders and compare how we’ve all gotten into this business where it’s so amazingly easy to make huge sums of money while putting out almost no effort,” he laughs. “Seriously, it’s just fun, and gets me out of the shop. I’m mainly just grateful to Baker for building this event.”
That’s one common thread that keeps coming up — how much Rorick has given of his self to make this happen and each year. Larry Campbell puts it this way. “One thing I want to say about the showcase is my admiration for Baker, for what he’s done with this thing. Because he’s done this for no other reason than pure passion and he is so genuinely impressed with the art of lutherie and the music being made by these instruments. He’s doing the whole thing coming from the heart.”
This grass roots “thing” that Rorick envisioned has grown into an international event this year. Dobroist Jerry Douglas says he was quite aware of the proceedings. “For some time now the luthiers I have befriended around this country have rated this Woodstock event as the must-see of all their conventions,” says Douglas. “I am not only honored to play there, but anxious to see what inspirations await. I am expecting to witness the guitar making Jewel of the Crown.”
Rorick says that its size contributes to its uniqueness. “We intentionally kept it small because, again, [it’s] the intimacy of it compared to other similar shows and their predecessors that were all two to three times as large in hotel bar rooms and convention centers. The setting and the location and the intimacy of the thing is crucial and the whole vibe…the vibe is paramount.”
This year The Bluestein Family Foundation donated $15,000. Rorick puts all of the grant funds right back into the event. “We decided to use it all for payback, music education and free public events. We used some of it for two free concerts by Sones de Mexico Ensemble, free workshops and concerts.”
Two of these free events will be held Sunday, October 23 at the Kleinert/James Center for the Arts (34 Tinker Street). At noon, the two time Grammy nominated Sones de Mexico Ensemble will perform Fiesta Mexicana geared for kids and families and at 2 p.m. at the same venue Sones de Mexico Ensemble will perform Beyond the Music: A Musical Geography of Mexico. This program is sponsored and partially funded by The National Endowment for The Arts.
The show includes all types of mostly acoustic guitars — archtop makers John Monteleone and Ken Parker; the incredible Linda Manzer; the sweet resonators of Paul Beard; flattops, double 00s, and some electrics even sneak their way in. Local builders are well represented, too. Along with Veillette, Bruce Ackerman presents, as does Martin Keith, and Conor Wenk. There are displays from the C. F. Martin Custom Shop and Bourgeois Guitars.
But there is also continuous live music, instructional workshops and clinics, free concerts and this year a special exhibit of historic contemporary stringed instruments from the Doctorow Collection.
Woodstock guitarist and a longtime preacher of the six string gospel Happy Traum, who shared the first Traditions award last year with Rock n’ Roll hall of famer John Sebastian, is as much a part of the festival as the guitars themselves. “The Luthier’s Invitational has become a much-anticipated, world-class annual event that brings guitar builders, suppliers and players together for a fabulous weekend festival. I look forward to it every year. I visit with old and dear friends, play beautiful instruments and hear some of the great guitarists of our time — right here in Bearsville. And I get to play, too!”
Cindy Cashdollar, who, aside from sitting in at the String Sampler concert, will be demonstrating Paul Beard’s resonator guitars and conducting a workshop on at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, calls the event a “ multi-faceted gem. Not only is it held during one of the most beautiful seasons here in the Catskills, it also truly represents our community in history and at present, drawing attention to a specific creative art in many forms. It’s one of the most personal presentations of stringed instrument making, and also educational in all that it has to offer with live performances and clinics. I think that everyone who attends will leave enlightened in some way.”
Among of important aspects of the Luthiers’ Festival are the raffles held on Saturday and Sunday October 22 and 23. Products and various goodies generously donated by the sponsors and others, including strings, accessories, effects pedals, straps, picks, tuners, guitar-care products, CDs, etc. are given away in the Bar/Lounge of the Bearsville Theater. The entire proceeds of the raffles benefit The John Herald Fund, the local starving musician/artist fund, administered through Family of Woodstock. Raffle drawings are daily at 4:30 p.m.
“Last year Dick Boak, Creative Director of the C.F. Martin Co., brought a $500 direct donation to Family for the John Herald Fund,” says Rorick who knew Herald.
Late Sunday afternoon the show closes, as it customarily does, with Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams and friends. Right before their performance at 4:40 p.m. Sunday, October 23 at the Bearsville Theater they will be given the second annual Traditions award.
“I’m flattered. We’re both really flattered. It’s an honor, it’s a real honor, just to be thought of in that vein is worthy as hell,” says Campbell. “We are doing a couple of dates with Jerry Douglas before his performance on Saturday night. If Jerry is still around, he’ll sit in with us.” You never know who else might sit in with Larry and Teresa when they close the show. Rumor has it that Pierre Bensusan might join them as well. “I know Baker is beside himself,” says Teresa Williams. “They have worked so hard on it. It’s fun, every time it’s fun. It’s a beautiful time of the year and Larry and a lot of them are just drooling all over the beautiful guitars. I love all those guys working the Luthier show and John and Happy, they’re both our friends and musical talents. It’s apropos. Congratulations to Baker.”
The Woodstock Invitational Luthiers Showcase takes place 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday, October 21, Saturday, October 22 and Sunday October 23 at the Bearsville Theater, 291 Tinker Street, Woodstock, and environs. General Admission is $20 per day; Three-day passes are $50. Tickets are available at the door, or you can buy advance tickets through Bearsville Theater Box Office, 845-679-4406, or online at www.woodstockinvitational.com/tickets.shtml.
Clinics are by separate admission; cost $35 per person per Clinic; pay at the door.
The String Sampler Concert, featuring Jerry Douglas and Bucky Pizzarelli, Ed Laub Duo, Pierre Bensusan, with guest appearances by Cindy Cashdollar, Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams and Happy Traum, is 8 p.m. Saturday, October 22 at the Woodstock Playhouse, 103 Mill Hill Road. Tickets are $65 for Front Row Gold Circle Seating; $50 for Gold Circle Seating B-F; $40 for Blue Tier & Green Tier Seating. See www.woodstockplayhouse.org/wils-string-sampler-concert-2016 for tickets or call 845-679-6900.