Australian rite

Tommy Emmanuel, Sierra Nevada, Sun., July 18

MAN AT WORK Tommy Emmanuel sold out two nights of shows at the Big Room.

MAN AT WORK Tommy Emmanuel sold out two nights of shows at the Big Room.

Photo By Tom Angel

Tommy Emmanuel’s 19-year-old fellow countryman, singer/songwriter/guitarist Simon Bruce, played a short opening set for the sold-out show of Australian guitar phenom Tommy Emmanuel. The attractive, dark-haired Bruce’s strong strum nicely foreshadowed the confident playing of mentor Emmanuel. His lyrics were somewhat trite at times ("…so gentle on my mind,” “…I will penetrate the secret cove") but he had a nice voice and came across quite charismatically.

Emmanuel was introduced fondly by emcee Bob Littell as “The Bull.” Looking elegant and dapper in a black suit and shirt, Emmanuel proceeded to tear it up from the get-go. I had heard Emmanuel on recordings and on television before; I knew he was good, but I wasn’t prepared for how much I would like him. He is very likeable with his happy Aussie smile and snappy mannerisms, and his guitar playing is nothing but truly phenomenal (he sings well also).

Emmanuel made a number of musical nods to his mentor and friend, the late great fellow fingerpicker Chet Atkins. One such song, “Funky and Warm,” a reworking of Atkins’ version of John Loudermilk’s “Windy and Warm,” was funky, bad-ass and captivating. Littell, Big Room promoter and a fabulous harmonica player as well, joined Emmanuel on several songs. Their version of “Amazing Grace” was beautiful.

Emmanuel’s “better half,” as he introduced her, lovely singer Elizabeth Watkins, sang three songs with him. Her take on Mama Cass’ “Dream a Little Dream of Me” was particularly endearing.

Emmanuel put on an amazing show, at one point playing two songs on his guitar at the same time, at another imitating what sounded like an entire band of percussionists (he doesn’t limit the use of his guitar to just playing the strings), and at still another reproducing, complete with effective light show and guitar effects, an Aboriginal initiation rite. Mesmerizing!