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13th Annual Uppsala International Guitar Festival

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Uppsala Konsert & Kongress
13th Annual Uppsala International Guitar Festival
Uppsala, Sweden
October 6-9, 2016

It all takes place in one building. A huge one, centrally located in downtown Uppsala, Sweden. It's the Konsert & Kongress, and it's home to a seemingly endless array of cultural and social events. And, as has been the case for many years, the annual Uppsala International Guitar Festival was taking its turn, utilizing three floors for performance and all-things guitars, both acoustic and electric. On hand were dealer merchants, both retail and individual, offering an enticing assortment of guitars (including some rather exotically designed ones), as well as what seemed like a voluminous amount of sheet music also for sale. Another name for what is called the Guitar Fair could easily be the Guitar Bazaar.

And, as in years past, the performers at this year's festival were all over the map, both literally and musically. Coming from as far away as Australia, other countries (apart from Sweden) represented included the U.S., England, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, France and India. Speaking of India, sitar star and headliner Anoushka Shankar also reflected a trend that will no doubt continue to emerge at the Uppsala fest: namely, one of an expanded definition of what qualifies as a "guitar." Shankar herself, during her sold-out performance that closed the festival, couldn't help but remark, "This is my guitar. It's a big one." Her show was one of many that were sold out, her's held in the largest of three Konsert & Kongress performance spaces.

A fourth hall was host to a special screening of a documentary currently making the rounds at film festivals worldwide: La Guitarra Vuelta: The Guitar Flies. A remarkable film about a guitar made for the late flamenco master Paco de Lucia by luthier Antonio Morales, both Morales and film director Jorge Martinez were on hand to help celebrate its presentation of two viewings at the festival.

All over the map musically, this four-day event presented festgoers with a mainly classical and Spanish guitar series of concerts, but also heavy metal (Paul Gilbert), a kind of country folk (Sofia Karlsson and her Grand Guitar Orchestra), rockabilly (Albert Lee), fingerstyle roots music (Adrian Legg) and, in the case of Shankar, a mix of Indian classical with her own brand of fusion, more obviously seeking to connect East and West with electronics, backbeats and what amounted to a kind of trio jazz with rhythm and improvisation that included drums and acoustic bass. Along with Indian Sanjeev Shankar on various reeds, Manu Delago provided the percussion and driving beats while bassist Tom Farmer doubled on electric keys. As for the classical and Spanish standouts, special mention should be made of young English guitarist Laura Snowdon and Sweden's Anders Miolin, as well as Australian classical crossovers the Grigoryan Brothers, Argentinian tango guitarist Augustin Luna and Brazil's Fabio Zanon. Each in their own way conveyed the spirit and love of guitar music, not to mention demonstrating superior skills in musical execution.

With the rich sampling of visiting artists this year, the Uppsala International Guitar Festival continues its tradition of booking the best the world has to offer. And while this year's rollout was thin in the jazz department, one only need to be reminded that in previous years, such master players as John McLaughlin, Al DiMeola, Pat Metheny, Ralph Towner and Paco de Lucia graced their stages.

Two other features that festival patrons have come to enjoy are their very popular Young Talents Competition as well as the usual large selection of workshops, clinics and masterclasses. Given by performers and other guitarists, these activities were all designed to help others improve their skill sets, this year covering everything from the art of guitar nail treatment to offering tools on modern improvisation and composition, to seeing the connections between the guitar, brain and body.

Dry wit characterized much of English guitarist Adrian Legg's set, a mix of commentary and storytelling with some subtle yet amazing guitar playing. There were stories about "the day after," divorce, a drunk driving a truck through the front of a bar Legg happened to be in, and canned music. It was all grist for the music mill as Legg quipped, "Sad, I'm sorry, frankly. But, it seemed appropriate to celebrate." Using one of his custom-made guitars, the sitting Legg provided a kind of homespun quality to his usual blend of the acoustic and electronic, all the while demonstrating his impeccable and famous fingerstyle technique. It was music that seemed to lie somewhere between and beyond country, folk, blues and outright ethnic, all of it laced with a spirit of jazz improvisation thrown in for good measure.

There were times when Legg's playing recalled the mesmerizing qualities of a John Fahey or Leo Kottke. The music sometimes a tad loud, he used reverb and sustain via foot pedals getting the effects of a bottleneck with a busy left hand while fingerpicking with his right. A kind of Hawaiian slack key sound could also be heard, with healthy doses of melancholy, a wistful, blues feel running through it all. The titles of some of the songs many times said it all: e.g., "Midwest Sunday," "Not Remotely Blue," "Divorcee's Waltz" and "The Irish Girl."

Yes, there were laughs to be heard all 'round, Adrian Legg's balancing act no act at all. Indeed, this happy-go-lucky-meets-no-luck-at-all troubadour's laconic confession of gratitude to this attentive Sunday lunch crowd hit home: "Thanks for reminding me how lonely I am."

Perhaps here was a reminder to all attending that this year's festival once again wasn't just about guitarists and guitars, but also (for those who cared to observe) about those lives that live beneath and behind their music, a certain Anoushka Shankar's life included.

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