Strings of dreams
The International Guitar Festival returns to its birthplace in Chico
It’s a cold night in the middle of January, and I’m talking on the telephone with acoustic-guitar maestro Brian Gore, who’s on tour in the Midwest. He’s waxing rhapsodic about a something he clearly loves:
“Music is the language of experience,” the 38-year old Bay Area resident says. “A language that everyone understands. It doesn’t require translation. It is the language of dreams.”
Gore has been hooked on music since the age of 11, when he first picked up a guitar and began listening to Bob Dylan records. He is now the helmsman of sorts on the touring voyage of the International Guitar Festival, a traveling concert of solo acoustic guitar greats from around the world. At the time of our conversation, the IGF was in Minneapolis, making its way across country to its original birthplace in Chico, where the festival will be staged during the first weekend of February (Friday in Paradise, Saturday at Chico State University).
The IGF originally began under the moniker of the “International Guitar Night,” and it soon became an annual occurrence, evolving into its current title. Chico is one of the few places the troupe makes an effort to visit every year.
“Chico is the most important city for IGF,” Gore says passionately. “We all look forward to playing there every year.”
It was in Chico that the festival really took off. During IGF’s infancy, Gore went to many different venues looking for promoters to support the festival, but most were uninterested in a show that didn’t have recognizable celebrities.
“They didn’t believe we would sell tickets,” recalls Gore. When he pitched the idea to Dan DeWayne, of Chico Performances, DeWayne thought it had potential and gave the four touring musicians their first big venue. With the success of that first show, the festival was born.
From its inception, the IGF has also been a fundraiser for NPR through KCHO/KFPR radio. “Each year it raises a significant amount of money,” says Steven McAlleer, assistant general director of Northstate Public Radio. “We originally wanted to create something to make money for us, but we also wanted an ongoing event that benefits the community. This year we’re hoping for our first sold-out performance.”
Now in its fifth year, the festival has gotten bigger and more popular, and more guitarists have been interested in joining the troupe’s rotating roster.
“It transcends any group,” McAlleer adds, “and the acoustic guitar appeals to just about everyone.”
“So many players want to be a part of the IGF,” Gore says. “They know it’s a good experience, and they can experience playing music with other guitar soloists in a non-competitive environment. Each performer is treated the same and has the same amount of time, regardless of his celebrity.”
Gore believes that breaking down the competitive element gives more to the audience.
“Instead of performing technical music for other guitar players,” Gore explains, “the performers focus on playing their most melodic and beautiful offerings. I am dedicated to the festival as a forum for guitar players to honor each other.”
The roster has grown rapidly the last few years and now includes some of the foremost composers of guitar music worldwide. This year, it includes Gore, who’s a former Chicoan; Paulo Bellinati, from Brazil; Andrew York of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet; and Pierre Bensusan, of France—some of the most talented guitarists in the world.
“If all of the musicians on the roster were polled to see who their four or five favorite musicians were, I think the result would be our current lineup,” Gore says. “Paulo Bellinati is considered the godfather of Brazilian guitar.”
York, the LA-based guitarist/composer, has also achieved notoriety; John Williams and Christopher Parkening, two of the world’s premier classical guitarists, frequently play his compositions. Likewise, the French instrumentalist Bensusan has inspired many players with his innovative blend of world music, folk, Celtic, and jazz.
“It isn’t about being famous," Gore explains. "The real draw is being able to play your music in front of people who enjoy it … [Personally] I really care about how this music will be in people’s life. … But Chico was really the first large venue we played. We love Chico, and Chico loves us."