Music City Roots "Guitar Night"  11.6.13
Wednesday, November 20, 2013 at 3:45PM
Ethan Ballinger

If you’ve never heard of Music City Roots, you should look it up.  If you have, you know that it’s a pretty cool weekly event in Nashville, broadcasting a live concert on the radio and Internet and featuring a diverse lineup of well-known artists and new acts alike. Every year Music City Roots has an annual “Guitar Night”; a show focusing specifically on guitar playing.  

Nashville is quite possibly the guitar capitol of the world, with a ridiculous concentration of amazing world-class players and a rich history and tradition of guitar playing that stretches way back.  Needless to say when I got a call from Guthrie Trapp, co-curator of the show the past two years and one of the most widely respected players around, to be a part of “Guitar Night” this year, I was a little shocked.  Some of my favorite players have been featured on previous “Guitar Nights”, including Kenny Vaughn, Pat Bergeson, Bryan Sutton, David Grier, and many others.  I have always been a guitar player at heart, it was my first true love, but as time passes I have removed myself from that identity further and further, focusing more on songwriting and production and a wide variety of aspects within the music world.  I have prided myself on being obsessed with a lot of different styles of music and as a result a lot of different styles of guitar playing; therefore whatever identity I may have as a guitar player is filtered through many different wavelengths and changes depending on the context.  

So as intimidating as it was to be featured alongside players such as Guthrie, Jim Oblong, and David Andersen that night, I knew that whatever I did had to be different, and true to myself.  Meaning that I would shape my set to be appropriate for a “Nashville” based guitar show and try to honor the styles of this town that have influenced me, but also not be afraid to be the wild card.  I was the least qualified and least known person to be on stage that evening, which also gave me the advantage of not having any expectations.  I wanted my set to be unpredictable and almost dreamlike, throwing things together that don’t really make sense but are just a part of my world.  My drummer, Jon Radford, put it perfectly backstage before the show, “I feel like we’re the weird kids at the party.” 

During my set I had the honor of being backed up by great musicians Radford on drums, Rich Brinsfield on bass, and Austin Filingo on rhythm guitar.  The first half of my set was played on electric guitar, playing a slow Beatles tune ("Because"), a funk jam, and a surf-jazz-rock tune ("Caravan").  The second half was played on a tenor guitar, consisting of a fiddle tune ("Two Girls From Galax"), a Django Reinhardt tune ("Ou Es-Tu, Mon Amour?"), and a fast Merle Travis tune ("Merle's Boogie Woogie").  I bought my 1955 0-18T Martin tenor guitar earlier this year and it has been really inspiring.  I have been playing it a lot and I knew that if nothing else it would be different from anything the other guys would play that night.  Here’s a video clip of “Merle’s Boogie Woogie” played on tenor guitar from my set:

“Guitar Night” could have been a jaded, cynical event with lots of flashy soulless fluff and competitive chest thumping.  It could have made me want to further distance myself from the instrument and what it has become in the last decade in the world of popular music; I’m perfectly content just doing whatever inspires me outside of the guitar world.  But I have to say it was a blast to get to sit back and just play whatever I wanted on guitar, and of course to watch all the other players redefine what is possible on the instrument.  It was a huge honor and a very humbling experience.  You can read Craig Havighurst’s blog about the night here:

And here are some more clips from the night:

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